Brandon Saad’s been thrown into the forward-line blender more than any of the Chicago Blackhawks this season.
After playing most of 2012-13 on the top line he started this season on the third one. Then he moved to the second line for a handful of games. Then it was back to the third line, then on the second again and then, in the wake of Marian Hossa’s upper-body injury, he was back on the top line with Jonathan Toews and Andrew Shaw. Oh, and he’s gone back and forth between his usual left-wing spot to right wing and back to left again.
Now switching lines isn’t new for many Blackhawks players. But getting great results regardless of line? That’s been harder to achieve; not, however, for Brandon Saad. The sophomore forward has been strong no matter where he’s played, and entering Wednesday’s game against Colorado, Saad has 18 goals and 25 points. He’s also a plus-29, fourth among all NHL players. Pretty good stats for a guy who’s done the line shuffle quite often. But Saad is fine with the moves.
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“I think the more I do it the more I feel comfortable,” he said. “I played both (wings) growing up. It’s a different level but playing with good players, it’s a learning moment. There’s lots of talk out there, too, especially with Johnny. It’s been a big help.”
Sure, but that doesn’t guarantee success. Saad, nevertheless, has produced, or kept the opposition from producing, no matter where he’s played. Every move has worked – well, there was that short stint at center that didn’t pan out, but with everything else Saad is doing, it’s moot.
“If you put him on the third line he can bang bodies and do well checking the other teams’ top lines. If you put him on the first he’s got the skill to play with someone like Toews, do well and put points on the board,” Brandon Bollig said. “He’s a player who’s so well rounded. Having a player like that on your side is definitely great. And when he’s that well rounded and does so well at every role, it’s huge for our team.”
Kris Versteeg agrees.
“It says a lot about him,” he said of Saad’s versatility. “Obviously he’s a young kid still, but in a grown man’s body. He knows how to make plays out of nothing with speed and skill. He makes whatever line he’s on dangerous.”
Right now, that’s the Blackhawks top line. Saad and Toews had chemistry from last season that’s carried over to this one. Saad and Shaw have played plenty in the past, too, so again, the familiarity is there.
“I’ve had chemistry with different guys playing on different lines, so for the most part it really doesn’t matter,” Saad said. “Q likes to mix it up and I’m comfortable with whoever I play with. We have a deep team with a lot of skilled players, so that helps.”
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Saad hasn’t stayed on one line very long this season. Sometimes that’s due to a player struggling to find his niche but not in Saad’s case. Wherever he’s been thrown, he’s contributed on both sides of the puck. Not bad to have that versatility at 21 year old and teammates say he’s only going to improve no matter where he’s playing.
“You can see it already, not just that straightforward game where his speed and strength are there but he’s also learning how to have that patience to see the play a lot better. He’s getting better at those little plays, too,” Corey Crawford said. “He’s only going to get more dangerous as a player as he goes.”