Saad slips onto 23-man roster again

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Saad slips onto 23-man roster again

In September of 2011, Brandon Saad got the best surprise of his young hockey career, making the Chicago Blackhawks roster out of training camp. On Thursday, for his second consecutive Blackhawks camp, he got the nod once again.
Saad made the Blackhawks 23-man roster, the group that will travel to Los Angeles to play the Stanley Cup-champion Los Angeles Kings on Saturday afternoon. For Saad, its a dream come true. Again.
It definitely (feels great), Saad said as he packed up for the Blackhawks flight to L.A. today. Confidence-wise its good, and I feel more comfortable up here.
Saad was one of several Rockford players who got the call-up early in the Blackhawks abbreviated camp. He was coming off a strong week with the IceHogs, and he earned AHL Player of the Week honors for it. While Andrew Shaw and Brandon Bollig were assumed nods to stay with the Blackhawks they had been among forward lines all week Saad wasnt a shoo-in.
Still, his work in last years camp and in the few games he played in a Blackhawks uniform gave the team brass an idea of what he could do. Coach Joel Quenneville said earlier this week that Saads potential was huge, and reiterated that today.
We saw it last year in training camp. Hes got some special skills and does a lot of things a lot of guys cant do: protects the puck, sees plays and makes plays, Quenneville said. He had some good and OK stretches in Rockford, and the last week or so did some things that really caught your attention. He can play with some top players as well.
Quenneville, however, wouldnt say that Saad was definitely in Saturdays lineup. He also wouldnt specify where hed fit in if he did, but it would likely be on the third or fourth lines.
Weve seen some top players over their careers start on the fourth line, Quenneville said. You look at the history of the (Montreal) Canadiens, it was a work-your-way-up-the-ladder type of thing. With (Saad), hes capable of playing in that role and could be inserted with johnny or someone up there, based on how he plays and based on his production. Right now were happy to have him starting here.
Saad isnt overly concerned with where he fits in at the moment. Hes here, and the rest is up to him.
Either way, its a huge step for me, he said. Its a short camp and Im able to make the trip. Its a process and I have to keep playing well.

TSN coaches poll: Wild favored to win West over Blackhawks

TSN coaches poll: Wild favored to win West over Blackhawks

The Blackhawks have won three Stanley Cups since 2010, and have eliminated the Minnesota Wild from the playoffs three times from 2013-15.

But it's the Wild that NHL coaches believe will win the Western Conference this season as we approach the trade deadline.

In his annual midseason poll, TSN's Bob McKenzie surveyed 25 of 30 coaches to vote on multiple categories, such as the league's best player and the team most likely to win it all.

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According to the survey, 11 coaches predicted the Wild will win the West while the Blackhawks and Sharks tied for second with four votes.

As for winning the Stanley Cup, the Washington Capitals are the favorite, earning 10 votes, followed closely by the reigning champion Pittsburgh Penguins with eight. The Wild and Blackhawks rounded out the poll with three and two votes, respectively.

Joel Quenneville earned one vote as the NHL's best coach, which is three fewer votes than he had last year, despite this year being arguably his most challenging — and best — coaching job since arriving in Chicago, given the youth on the roster.

Extra incentive fuels Tanner Kero in second stint with Blackhawks

Extra incentive fuels Tanner Kero in second stint with Blackhawks

Incentive. For many young prospects trying to latch onto an NHL roster, there's already plenty of it there. It's a chance at playing on a bigger stage, a bigger opportunity for a career and, if you're on a two-way contract, a bigger paycheck.

Tanner Kero already had that incentive but in November, received an even more special one: he and his wife welcomed their first child, a boy. Now when Kero plays, it's not just what it means for him. It's what it means for his family.

"It's been a fun experience. It's something a little extra special that you play for," Kero said. "You get your mind away from the game when you go home. You just relax and enjoy that part of life. It's just something extra to play for and it's been special."

Kero has been making the most of his second shot with the Blackhawks, recording two goals and two assists on the Blackhawks' dads trip. That included a three-point night against the Colorado Avalanche and a building chemistry with line mates Vinnie Hinostroza and Marian Hossa. 

Coach Joel Quenneville likes what he's seen thus far.

"He did a great job for us," Quenneville said. "Defensively, we like his availability in his own end. We like his positioning offensively. He had a nice couple of games to finish the dads trip but he's been good for us. I like the consistency."

Rockford coach Ted Dent said Kero started playing better in November, not long after Kero became a dad. Whether or not that had anything to do with it Dent didn't know, but the results were there nonetheless.

"I think he'd be the first to say his season started off slow with us and he finally caught his stride, maybe 15-20 games into our season," Dent said. "He was skating better, skating stronger, he had more confidence with the puck and things just came together."

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Kero's line is a good blend of familiarity, defense and skill. Kero and Hinostroza are good friends who played together plenty in Rockford. Hossa is... well, Hossa, and pretty much benefits any line mate.

"It's been good," Kero said. "We've been trying to continue, get some secondary scoring. But we also want to be relied on defensively, be counted on to play in big situations, a defensive draw, at the end of a period or end of a game. We're trying to focus on being good defensively, being simple and hard to play against. We're getting fortunate enough to contribute offensively as well."

Hossa, whose game-winning goal in Boston came off a Kero feed, said the 24-year-old is adapting well.

"Since they called him up he took it to his advantage. Right now he's playing the 200-foot game, [he's] real smart in our zone, doesn't panic, makes the right play at the right time, and he's showing more offensive abilities," Hossa said. "It seems like things are going well for him and we're glad we can help as a third line right now in scoring some important goals. With young players, that's definitely big."

Kero's made an impact and an impression with the Blackhawks. Quenneville said on Sunday that, even when Marcus Kruger returns from his injury, Kero will likely remain where he is – "I don't see too many things that would change his positioning because he really helped himself," Quenneville said.

"That comment tells you the trust level he's gained in Kero," Dent said. "I knew over time that Kero was a player that Q was going to love. I've gotten to know Q over the years and in talking to him I know what he likes in players and it was just a matter of time because Kero's a responsible two-way player. He doesn't cheat the game and he's very aware of his defensive responsibilities and that's what Q loves, first and foremost. A lot of us coaches love that."

Kero is making strides in his second stint with the Blackhawks. He already had plenty of incentive to make an impact on this roster. Now a new father, he has that much more of one.