Brandon Saad didn’t expect this to happen.
When the Gibsonia native was first selected by Chicago in the second round (43rd overall) in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, he said he figured he’d be returning to his junior team – the Saginaw Spirit of the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) – for another year of development.
|Brandon Saad in a preseason game against his hometown team. (Getty Images) |
But Saad made such an impression on the Blackhawks brass over the past few months that they signed him to a three-year entry-level contract on Tuesday – and Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman announced that the 18-year-old will be on the club's opening-night roster Friday vs. Dallas.
To top it off, Saad – who rooted for the Penguins growing up about a half hour outside of downtown Pittsburgh – is likely going to be skating on a line with Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews and sniper Patrick Sharp.
“It’s going to be awesome,” Saad told Blackhawks TV. “I’ve always wanted to work to make the NHL and I wanted to come in here with the right attitude and work hard. I didn’t expect to make the team, but it’s something nice to have.”
“We’re happy we’ve reached a contract with Brandon. He’ll be in the lineup opening night,” Bowman told Blackhawks TV.
The big-bodied forward (6-foot-2, 206 pounds) with smooth hands and a wicked shot 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, heading into the draft.
Bowman referred to the disappointment Saad, originally projected as a first-round pick, felt falling to the second round, but reiterated how happy they’ve been with the way he’s performed thus far – beginning with a strong showing at Chicago’s prospect development camp.
|Brandon Saad during a visit to CONSOL Energy Center in the summer. |
He then paced the Blackhawks prospects with four goals and five points in three games at the 2011 rookie tournament in Oshawa, Ontario earlier this month, which the Penguins also participated in.
Saad, the youngest player at Chicago’s training camp, ranked fourth (tied) on the Blackhawks with three points (1G-2A) in six games during the 2011 preseason (two of which came against Pittsburgh), playing with elite talents like Toews, Patrick Kane and Marian Hossa.
“The competition has gone up each time, and he’s responded to the challenge,” Bowman said. “I think you have to credit him for his hard work and determination. He’s earned a spot. … It’s a good story for us. We put him in a position to succeed and he seized it.”
Chicago has nine games to decide whether to keep Saad for the season or send him back to juniors. Playing more than nine games would mean his contract kicks in, while playing nine or less means it delays the start of his contract.
“For sure we’ll wait and see, and we’ll see how he progresses,” Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville told Blackhawks TV.
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 collected 27 goals, 28 assists and 55 points in 59 games with the Spirit last season (his first in the OHL).
Saad played for Butler Valley, the Pittsburgh Amateur Penguins and the Pittsburgh Hornets while coming up through the Pittsburgh amateur hockey system.
He was part of the largest Pittsburgh-area draft class in history, where he joined forward J.T. Miller (E. Palestine. OH/Coraopolis), who was taken 15th overall by the New York Rangers; goalie John Gibson (Whitehall), who was taken 39th overall by Anaheim and forward Vince Trocheck (Upper St. Clair), who was taken 64th overall by Florida.RELATED CONTENT:Penguins-Blackhawks Post-Game: Brandon SaadHomecoming KingPittsburgh Region Shines at Entry Draft Saad Ensures Pittsburgh Area Has Best Draft Class EverPensTV Exclusive: Brandon SaadOn the Fast Track Unexpected Reunion