Patrick Kane chuckled when talking about teammate Brandon Saad, who apparently doesn’t sell his age very well.
“We call him man-child in here,” Kane said of the 20-year-old rookie. “He looks older than he is and he’s a big, strong guy.”
Yes, be it his presence or his play, Saad doesn’t seem like he’s just 20. He acts more like a veteran. And for the Blackhawks this season, he’s played like it as well.
Saad handles on-ice responsibilities and league pressure the same way he likely handled it through juniors and in Rockford earlier this season: he rolls with them, instead of getting rolled over by them. And with every passing game, Saad improves and garners more respect from his teammates and coaches.
“He’s been doing really well. He gets chances every game and compliments Johnny (Toews) and (Marian) Hossa really well,” Kane said. “He’s fun to watch, he’s good and he’s having fun.”
Indeed, Saad has been strong in his first full season with the Blackhawks. And he was notable again Friday night when his short-handed goal gave the Blackhawks a 2-1 decision over San Jose, giving the team a new league-record 17 straight games without a regulation loss. A fixture on that top line – outside of the season opener and a few shifts in Friday’s game – Saad has made the most of the chance he got when Daniel Carcillo was injured.
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“It’s exciting,” Saad said of his season. “I got a taste of it last year and it’s all about opportunity, I guess. Unfortunately, injuries happen. But I’ve gotten a chance to play with those two and it’s been a good season.”
And opportunity earned Saad some more penalty kill time on Friday. When Dave Bolland went down with an unspecified upper-body injury late in the second period, Saad was on the kill early in the third. With three seconds left on Brent Seabrook’s minor, Saad scored the game-winner.
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Hossa has been impressed with his young linemate.
“He’s been a threat offensively,” he said. “He’s had good, quality chances. Maybe he doesn’t have as many goals as he could, but he drives to the net hard and has an unbelievable step to the net. For the future, he’s going to be a great player for us.”
Saad has especially endeared himself to the Blackhawks’ defensemen.
“I can always trust he’ll get the puck out of our own end and always get it deep so we can change. That’s why I think he’s really popular back here with the D,” said Niklas Hjalmarsson of Saad, whose stall is between Duncan Keith’s and Johnny Oduya’s. “He’s been impressive.”
A big workload, a spot on the top line, extra responsibilities borne of opportunity: all of this could be a lot for a 20-year-old to handle. But teammates notice Saad takes it all in stride.
“He’s probably been in the spotlight most of his career, so he’s fitting right in and starting to come along in the locker room,” Viktor Stalberg said. “He gets chances; he probably hasn’t found the scoring touch yet but he will, for sure.”
Saad has taken advantage of his opportunities. He probably didn’t write his early career script quite like this, but he’s playing the role well.
“It’s been incredible,” he said. “I’m feeling much better than last year, especially with my time in Rockford (during the lockout). Everyone’s dream is to play here and to end up in Chicago. It’s been unbelievable for me.”