No Saad story: Rookie impressing Blackhawks

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No Saad story: Rookie impressing Blackhawks

Saturday, Sept. 24, 2011
Posted: 5:42 p.m.

By Tracey Myers
CSNChicago.com Blackhawks InsiderFollow @TraMyersCSN
Brandon Saad should be overwhelmed right now.

The 18-year-old product of Gibsonia, Pa., about 20 miles outside of Pittsburgh, is surrounded by veterans and proven stars in the Chicago Blackhawks' training camp. He's supposed to be nervous, supposed to be going through the ups and downs that a teen would on this stage.

But he's having none of it. He's calm. And he's treating the NHL game like he did the high school one. For him, hockey is hockey.

"Once you get on the ice, like most (hockey) people, you've been playing your whole life and that's just something you do out there," he said.

And Saad has also earned a fourth start on Sunday when the Blackhawks travel to Detroit. Saad has been the surprise of training camp, something coach Joel Quenneville sees happen every year.

Still, nobody quite expected the Blackhawks' second-round draft pick to have this much of an impact this quickly. The question is, can he really make this Blackhawks team?

"I don't know. If he keeps doing that way every day we'll probably be talking about him the next day," said Quenneville on Friday, after Saad's goal claimed a 3-2 Blackhawks victory over the Washington Capitals. "This is not something we envisioned. But every training camp there's someone who gets your attention and captures it, makes you look at the case differently. He's done that."

So the plot thickens a bit. It would've been easy for Quenneville to talk us all off the teen-makes-team ledge on Friday night. Say Saad won't play on Sunday. Say that, despite this stunning camp debut, Saad is still 18, still has too much room to grow to even consider him making the 2011-12 Blackhawks. But Saad has made it that tough on Quenneville and company. He's too hard to ignore.

Teammates have noticed, too. Saad clicked in the third period on Friday with Viktor Stalberg and Jonathan Toews, whose line provided all the offense in that final frame. Toews, who was the teen making a splash a few years ago, recognizes the same qualities in Saad.

"You have to have confidence that you can play against (veterans) and fit right in and have respect for them," Toews said. "It's all about finding that confidence inside you. He's one of those guys that's showing he can do that. He has the mindset to be out there and make plays at any level."

Will Saad make it? Hard to say.

This Blackhawks roster is still veteran heavy, so it's still likely that Saad will head to juniors (Saginaw of the OHL). Whether or not he's with the Blackhawks this season, he's certainly left his mark.

"It was a pretty third goal to finish it. He had a special game again," Quenneville said. "He's someone we've talked about. It's still early in camp, but it's been fun watching him."

Briefly

Forward Rob Flick, defenseman Brian Fahey and goaltender Alec Richards were assigned to the Rockford IceHogs on Saturday afternoon. The Blackhawks' roster now stands at 38 players.

The Blackhawks will play the Detroit Red Wings in Detroit at 4 p.m. on Sunday. The game will be televised locally on WGN and nationally on the NHL Network. It will also be broadcast on WGNradio.com.

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

Blackhawks goalie Scott Darling taking advantage of No. 1 reps

Blackhawks goalie Scott Darling taking advantage of No. 1 reps

Life as a backup goaltender can be difficult. 

The job entails being prepared at all times and performing at a high level when your number is called despite going sometimes weeks without seeing any action.

With Corey Crawford backing up Team Canada at the World Cup of Hockey, Scott Darling is getting the No. 1 reps in the crease for the Blackhawks.

And he's taking full advantage of that.

"Yeah, obviously I miss Corey, but it's fun to be the guy right now," Darling said following a 2-0 loss in Wednesday's preseason opener to the Pittsburgh Penguins. "I'll take any starts I can get. I don't care if it's regular season or preseason, I just want to play as much as I can. It was nice to get the first game under my belt."

After facing just three shots in the first period, Darling stayed on his toes by denying all 23 shots he saw in the second period — a handful of them on the penalty kill.

"I definitely don't like sitting there," Darling said of the first period. "I don't think they had a shot for about 12 minutes, but you've got to learn how to play in those situations too. It's nice to get some game feels."

Darling finished with 33 saves overall in the Blackhawks' loss and was sharp in the first dress rehearsal of the year as both goals were out of his control — a redirect on the power play and a rebound tap-in at the doorstep, both by Chris Kunitz.

Credit his strong play to working hard in the offseason and maximizing on the opportunity he's been given.

"Darling certainly was a standout, not only when we got a little bit overwhelmed in the second period, but really throughout the game," Blackhawks assistant coach Kevin Dineen said. "He was certainly a positive, which we always expect out of him but I think it's a testament to the way he prepared himself this summer and I think it certainly showed tonight." 

Darling doesn't get many chances to anchor the blue paint on a nightly basis.

He started in 24 games last season, 11 of which came during the final portion of the season in March and April when Crawford was dealing with an upper-body injury.

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Darling said that stretch was "probably the best I've ever felt" because you know you're the guy, which eliminates the stress factor of turning in a great performance to earn your next start.

He finished the 2015-16 campaign with a 12-8-4 record, 2.58 goals against average and .915 save percentage, including one shutout.

Not bad, not great. 

This season is a chance to prove he can continue to be a consistent and reliable goaltender in any situation, and when the 27-year-old Lemont native gets the opportunity to represent the team he grew up rooting for — something he never loses sight of — Darling expects to be on top of his game when called upon.

"I'm seriously excited to be on the Chicago Blackhawks still," he said. "I just want to play the best I can when they give me a chance to play."

Nick Schmaltz making good early impression with Blackhawks

Nick Schmaltz making good early impression with Blackhawks

Nick Schmaltz figured it would be different at this level.

Yes, Schmaltz had played against some of college’s best en route to that national title with the University of North Dakota. But the pro level is the pro level for a reason.

“It’s a big transition from the college level. Guys are faster, more skilled, and you have less time and space,” he said. “But as camp’s gone on everyone’s gotten a little more comfortable and making more plays and I think we’ll continue that into tonight.”

Schmaltz looked pretty comfortable on Wednesday night, when the Blackhawks lost their preseason opener to the Pittsburgh Penguins, 2-0. Schmaltz logged 18 minutes, 30 seconds of ice time, including 2:53 on the power play. For the Madison, Wisc., kid who used to come to Blackhawks playoff games, playing that first game at the United Center was “surreal.”

“It was good,” he said after the game. “Obviously we didn’t get the results we wanted, but we had some good opportunities. We can get more pucks on net. We let the goalie off a little easy, but hopefully just keep building and keep getting better every day.”

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Schmaltz has practiced some on the left wing, and that’s where he was in Wednesday night’s scrimmage (with Vinnie Hinostroza centering and Richard Panik on right wing). The Blackhawks always love versatility, but Schmaltz going on the wing is more of a need than an option right now.

“Most of the openings in the organization are on the wing. We’re pretty full down the middle. It’s something we’re trying to see if he can fit in there and play well there,” assistant coach Mike Kitchen said. “And he’s got a nice set of hands, a nice skill set, so hopefully he’ll be comfortable on the wing there.”

Schmaltz has played more right wing than left, but he said the adjustments aren’t so bad.

“Just wall work. Might have to make some backhand plays off the wall but other than that, nothing, really,” Schmaltz said. “Since me and Panik are playing off wing, we’ll get across the blue line, cut across and make plays to each other. It’ll be fun out there.”

Schmaltz held his own in his first game in a Blackhawks uniform. There are high expectations for him entering this season, but he’ll let his game dictate where he ends up.

“If I play my game, play hard, I should put myself in a pretty good spot,” he said. “But I can’t control what decisions they make, so I’ll compete as hard as I can every night and show them what I can do.”