MONTREAL, Quebec — Brandon Saad has gotten good at switching gears.
He’s had to be. The left wing turned center (for about 10 minutes in the preseason) turned right wing turned left wing (again) has, as you can see, moved back and forth a bit. Yes, there are adjustments to be made by Saad, who’s played both sides but primarily on the left. But as he’s adapted to everything else in the year-plus that he’s been here, Saad’s moved from left to right fairly easily this season.
He will be back on the left, we think, when the Chicago Blackhawks play the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday night. The switching back and forth hasn’t hurt Saad, who has picked up where he left off last season when he was a Calder Trophy finalist.
“Everybody talks about the sophomore year when they bounce a little bit but he hasn’t shown that,” coach Joel Quenneville said of Saad. “I’ve seen a lot of signs for improvement. He’s a threat. He’s dangerous every time he touches the puck and he has a nice pace to his game.”
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Saad was back on the third line’s left side, with Michal Handzus and Kris Versteeg, during Friday’s practice. The 21-year-old said he’s felt pretty good no matter what side he’s played.
“Once I know what I’m playing it’s easier to focus before a game, and you mentally check yourself into that,” he said. “Sometimes during the game you switch back and forth and that’s an adjustment, because it’s an in-game switch. But I feel pretty good.”
And when he has to adjust on the fly, he does.
“It’s just being on the different side of the ice,” he said. “If you’re used to playing left or right, you’re used to that side. With our team, it’s a lot of flow and communication and helping each other out, so I don’t have much of a problem switching back and forth. It’s something I’m more comfortable with and I’m fine with it.”
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The Blackhawks appreciate versatility in all of their players. Some players have gone to center, even if it isn’t their natural position. Some have added special teams (Marcus Kruger going on the penalty kill, Andrew Shaw on the power play). Saad, who played both wings growing up, is happy to do it on this level, too.
“That definitely helps out with being able to be versatile like that,” Saad said. “Coaches love players who can do more than one thing, so I’ll try to do everything I can and try to help out.”
Saad was hoping to help Team USA at the upcoming Winter Olympics in Sochi but was not selected to the team. It was a bitter pill to swallow, for sure, but Saad is keeping it in perspective. Also, if there’s an injury to a player already on the roster, Saad could still be added. And if he continues to play and be versatile these next few seasons, he won’t have to worry about being on the bubble for 2018.
“I’m still young. It’s a tough team to make and I have to look at it like that,” he said. “There will be other opportunities. There are always things that motivate guys. Who knows if I’m added (to the 2014 squad) or not, but you can always be better. It’s definitely a reality check and there’s a lot of work to do.”