ST. PAUL, MN – Prior to the 2011 National Hockey League Entry Draft there had never been more than two kids born and trained in Pittsburgh taken in the same draft.
That changed within the first 43 picks of the 2011 Entry Draft when the Chicago Blackhawks made Gibsonia, Pa. forward Brandon Saad the third of four Pittsburgh-born players selected in this year’s draft.
Much like J.T. Miller (New York Rangers, 1st round, 15th overall) and John Gibson (Anaheim Ducks, 2nd round, 39th overall) before him, Saad expressed delight at watching four players from the Pittsburgh amateur hockey system taken in one draft.
“I talked to all of them a little bit,” Saad said. “I congratulated J.T. (on Friday). John (Gibson) and Vince Trocheck (drafted in the 3rd round by the Florida Panthers) and I talked (Saturday). We keep in touch, obviously.”
Highly-skilled offensively, Saad spoke eagerly when asked about joining an organization that includes talented young stars like Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Patrick Sharp.
“It’s going to be awesome,” Saad said. “I’m really happy to be a part of this organization. It’s an honor to get picked.”
When Saad joins the Blackhawks for training camp in September he’ll be greeted by a familiar face – Wampum, Pa.’s Stephen Johns, a defenseman drafted 60th overall by the Blackhawks in 2010.
Saad and Johns were teammates growing up in Pittsburgh and later joined forces again in 2009-10 on the U.S. National Junior Team Development Program Under-18 team.
“Me and Stephen are good friends from being around the same area,” Saad said. “We have a great relationship. We played a couple of years together growing up and then met up again last year on the national team.”
Thickly-built at 6-foot-2, 206 pounds, Saad was ranked No. 19 overall among North American skaters by NHL Central scouting and No. 21 overall among all players by Red Line Report, an independent scouting service.
|Brandon Saad's draft portrait after being taken 43rd overall by the Chicago Blackhawks. (Credit - Getty Images) |
A Penguins Cup champion in 2008 when he netted a hat trick in the championship game at the then-Mellon Arena for Pine-Richland, Saad spent this past season skating for the Saginaw Spirit of the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) where he was a teammate and frequent linemate of fellow Pittsburgh-area native Trocheck.
Saad starred in his first season in the OHL, collecting 27 goals, 28 assists and 55 points in 59 games with the Spirit.
Saad, who played for Butler Valley, the Pittsburgh Amateur Penguins and the Pittsburgh Hornets while coming up through the Pittsburgh amateur hockey system, projects to spend a second season with Saginaw this year.
He hopes to use a second year of OHL competition to further hone his defensive game.
“I’m looking to work on my defensive game to be a more well-rounded player,” Saad said.
Another product of the Penguins’ Stanley Cup championship teams in 1991 and ’92, Saad elected to make hockey his primary focus at a young age.
“I fell in love with the game at a young age and got good at it, so I kept with it,” Saad said. “My brother played as well so it’s been a lot of fun.”
Speaking of fun, Saad spoke glowingly about how much fun it will be for him personally to play against a pair of players he’s enjoyed watching the past couple years – the Penguins’ Sidney Crosby
and Evgeni Malkin
– once he does reach the NHL in the near future.