PITTSBURGH – The last time Brandon Saad played in Pittsburgh he was a recent Chicago Blackhawks draftee, a teen-ager getting a taste of the NHL in preseason action.
Three years, a Calder Trophy nomination and a Stanley Cup championship later, Saad returns decorated, seasoned and proven. And with about 40 family and friends joining him at CONSOL Energy Center tonight, you can bet Saad will also be motivated.
Saad will play his first regular season game in his hometown tonight when the Blackhawks play the Pittsburgh Penguins. It’s been a tremendous few seasons for Saad, who had a stellar rookie season and hasn’t wavered in this, his sophomore year. Now playing at home, it’s obviously special.
“I’m looking forward to it,” he said after Sunday morning’s skate. “Going through what we did last year; being able to have those experiences and come home and share them, it’s been great. I’m looking forward to seeing how it goes tonight.”
Obviously it’s gone well again for Saad this season, as the 21-year-old has 19 goals and 25 assists in 72 games. Be it left wing or right wing, top line, second line or third line, Saad hasn’t missed a beat.
“The consistency of his game was there right off the bat with his strength in the puck area and play recognition,” Joel Quenneville said. “This year he’s been used in a lot of different ways, with different line combinations. He has flexibility left and right. In the puck area, Saader’s as good as it is.”
The Blackhawks took Saturday off, which gave Saad the chance to visit family and friends throughout the day. One of Saad’s best attributes is his inability to be rattled; that was evident last season, when he stepped into a top-line role and fit in immediately. As for how he’ll feel tonight in front of the hometown fans, well, he could have some butterflies.
“At first, I might be a little (nervous),” he said. “But once I’m on the ice I’ll feel good. It’s good to come home, though.”