Saad the latest surprise youngster for Hawks

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Saad the latest surprise youngster for Hawks

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Brandon Saad stood in front of the biggest media throng he's seen since he got to Chicago on Tuesday afternoon. The 18-year-old was grinning from ear to ear after the Blackhawks signed him to a three-year entry-level deal, the words "awesome," "exciting" and "unbelievable" dominating his answers.

Yes, the kid is signed. And the kid, at least for now, is staying. Because the kid has earned it.

Saad's hard work has gotten him to this point, so the Blackhawks signed him to his deal which, according to capgeek.com, has an annual cap hit of 795,000. The Blackhawks have recognized the youngster's talent since his rookie camp debut this summer, and general manager Stan Bowman said it's evident that Saad can play at this level.

"The competition has gone up each time and he's responded to the challenge. He's earned a spot," Bowman said in announcing Saad's deal. "He's excited to go and that's a good story for us. We put him in a position to succeed and he seized it."

Now Saad being a good player isn't a shock; he was pegged to be a first-round selection at the 2011 NHL Entry Draft. But he didn't make the U.S. world junior team and a groin injury hampered him some last season with the Saginaw Spirit, and his stock dropped.

So he went in the second round instead. Fine. The Blackhawks took him, he took advantage of his training-camp audition and here he is: a teen-ager who will be on the top line with Jonathan Toews and Patrick Sharp in Dallas on Friday night. And if Saad used that second-round fall as motivation, it apparently worked.

"I fell in the draft, yeah, but it wasn't my decision," Saad said. "No matter what would've happened you have something to prove. It's a fresh start."

It's probably a lot fresher than he anticipated at this point of his young career. The Blackhawks have had a few young surprises out of recent camps -- defenseman Nick Leddy was last year's at age 19 -- and Saad's story gets added to that lore.

"There's always a guy every year who jumps ahead higher than expected. We've seen it here," Bowman said. "His talent is there. We're the beneficiaries of that. He's 18 years old and plays a pro game already. He's got great years ahead of him."

So how long will Saad stay with the Blackhawks this season? It depends. Saad could play a few games -- up to nine -- with the Blackhawks and then could be headed back to Saginaw. But if he makes a big impact it's going to be hard for the Blackhawks to send him packing.

That will all play itself out. Whether he's here for a few games or for the season, Saad is going to enjoy it.

After all, he's earned it.

"It's sinking in, yeah, a little bit," Saad said. "But I'm still just loving being here. It's going to be awesome."

Tracey Myers is CSNChicago.com's Blackhawks Insider. Follow Tracey on Twitter @TramyersCSN for up-to-the-minute Hawks information.

Blackhawks: Corey Crawford not among Vezina Trophy finalists

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Blackhawks: Corey Crawford not among Vezina Trophy finalists

Corey Crawford was not among the three finalists for the Vezina Trophy, annually awarded to the league's top goaltender, the National Hockey League announced Wednesday.

Tampa Bay's Ben Bishop, Washington's Braden Holtby and Los Angeles' Jonathan Quick were named candidates, which is voted on by the 30 general managers.

Bishop was named a finalist for the second time in his career after finishing third in 2013-14 while Quick is also a two-time nominee after earning a second-place finish in 2011-12.

Holtby, who tied an NHL record this season with 48 wins, is a first-time finalist.

Crawford set a career high with 35 wins, which was tied for fourth-best this season, despite missing one month with an upper-body injury. The Blackhawks netminder recorded a .924 save percentage, 2.37 goals against average and led the league with seven shutouts.

The winner will be announced Wednesday, June 22 at the 2016 NHL Awards in Las Vegas.

 

Blackhawks have offseason to get past 'tough feeling' of early playoff exit

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Blackhawks have offseason to get past 'tough feeling' of early playoff exit

It probably took until today, when the Blackhawks had their closing meetings, their final wrap-up interviews with the media.

Their postseason, their shortest since 2012, is really over.

“It's just one of those real empty feelings. It still kind of feels like maybe we have a couple days off and then we'll get back to saying again,” Patrick Kane said. “Pretty tough feeling. A lot of us love showing up to the rink, playing hockey and getting ready for a game especially this time of year. It'll be tough to watch and see someone else win the award this year.”

The Blackhawks felt they had the pieces in place for another long playoff run, possibly even being the first team to repeat as Stanley Cup champions since the Detroit Red Wings in the late 1990s. It wasn’t to be, but general manager Stan Bowman said it wasn’t for lack of trying.

"Certainly proud of the effort we gave,” he said. “We played (the Blues) 12 times this year, 11 of the games were one-goal games. So obviously it was a very even series. When you play a good team like that sometimes you come out on the short end, not through lack of effort. But your goal is to win, and when you don't you're disappointed.”

The Blackhawks entered this season a little depleted following another post-Cup, salary-cap purge. There were deficiencies at forward and defense that hadn’t been there in recent seasons. Still, the Blackhawks thought they had enough to go on another run, especially after getting Andrew Ladd, Dale Weise and Tomas Fleischmann at the deadline. But the four-line consistency that’s long been a part of the Blackhawks was missing. Young defensemen had up-and-down moments throughout the season, so the onus remained on Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook and Niklas Hjalmarsson.

“It’s been a long, long time (since) we finished this early. Before the trade deadline, when we picked up new guys, we were excited and we said we could go far again. Obviously St. Louis played great hockey. We fought back and (lost) Game 7 by one goal,” Hossa said. “It’s tough to lose in the first round. But on the other hand, now it’s over, everybody’s going to have a good, long summer to recharge and be fresher for next year, the next push.”

Indeed, the Blackhawks will get ample time to rest and recuperate. They haven’t had much time to do either over these last three years, and you wonder if playing that much hockey caught up with some of the core players. Most of that core will return. Maybe Andrew Shaw is gone, as the team’s financial situation will make it tough to keep him. But there are still plenty remaining, and the extra rest could help them make sure this long offseason isn’t repeated.

“Get some rest now, try to recover as best we can and get ready for next year,” Seabrook said. “We know we’ve got a good team going into next season and a chance to compete, so we want to have a long playoff next year.”

Artemi Panarin thrives during rookie season with Blackhawks

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Artemi Panarin thrives during rookie season with Blackhawks

Marian Hossa watched some of the World Championships last May after the Blackhawks swept the Minnesota Wild. That’s when he got his first glimpse of Artemi Panarin.

“I saw this kid playing Slovakia, and he was just dominating. So I watched another game, and he was dominating again,” Hossa said. “One of the players was fun to watch, and when I heard he was coming to Chicago I was like, ‘Can’t wait for this guy.’ And he didn’t disappoint at all. He just picked up where he left off from what I saw on the TV screen.”

Panarin definitely didn’t disappoint in his first NHL season, bolstering the Blackhawks’ offense with his 77 points. Joining Artem Anisimov and Patrick Kane, Panarin was part of the Blackhawks’ most consistent line of the season.

General manager Stan Bowman anticipated Panarin adapting to the North American style but admitted he didn’t expect 77 points.

“We had hoped that he would come in here and be an offensive player. In watching his style of play and watching his performance over the last couple years in the KHL, we knew that he had a chance to be an offensive player. Whether he's going to find chemistry or whether he's going to be effective throughout a full season, I didn't expect him to be as good as he was,” Bowman said at the Blackhawks’ closing meetings on Wednesday. “These are the great surprises you have, when he comes in and does something that's sort of unheard of for a first year player. So, that was obviously a big reason for our team's success. He came in, and he gave us a lot offensive production, which we clearly needed.”

For Panarin, his first NHL season was certainly a memorable one.

“I was very happy just to play for Blackhawks,” Panarin said through interpreter Stan Stiopkin. “This is a first-class organization, general manager, coaches, players and the players helping me a lot. It was like a good group of players, and I feel comfortable. I’m really happy to be in Chicago because this is probably the best city in the world.”

Panarin and Kane clicked immediately on the ice. It certainly helped to have fellow Russian Anisimov there, too, especially after Panarin’s good friend/former St. Petersburg teammate Viktor Tikhonov was waived and picked up by Arizona. It was rare when the trio were separated. For coach Joel Quenneville, there was no reason to do so: The line’s consistency and production was tough to beat.

“He came in here as a great story for us, knowing that we got to sign a potentially special player and live through it with all the hype surrounding him and delivered in every which way. He was a special player,” Quenneville said of Panarin. “I loved his consistency. I loved the way he enjoys the game. Liked is progression over the course of the season, though he got a lot more attention as the season progressed.”

Yes, teams started focusing on Panarin that much more as the season continued. And Anisimov said that’s why Panarin has to bring even more in his sophomore season here.

“He can do a lot more,” he said. “This was the first season for him, and he adapted. But for the next season he needs to improve his game to another level because everybody’s going to be prepared for him. He showed his potential, and he needs to be better.”

Panarin said that he will play for Team Russia in the upcoming World Championships. He said there are a few things he needs to improve upon entering the fall of 2016 — “ confidence, playing 1-on-1 in the attacking zone,” he said. His first season here, however, was a great one. Hossa was right: What he saw from Panarin on TV translated onto the NHL ice.

“It was just fun to watch him. And he and Kane were so dynamic and so much fun to watch,” Hossa said. “What a season they had.”