Brandon Saad stood in the Chicago Blackhawks locker room prior to Tuesday’s opener, no longer the new kid of the group. More like a veteran, really, even at the tender age of 20.
“It’s only the second year and it feels like I’ve been here forever,” Saad said.
Indeed, the “Man-Child” is more man than child these days. After getting his feet wet with the Blackhawks as an 18-year-old and becoming a Calder Trophy candidate and Stanley Cup champion this past spring, Saad is officially ingrained in the Blackhawks’ organization. Now, after making the most of a top-line assignment during the lockout-shortened season, Saad is ready to bring that same game to a different line. He was off to a good start on Tuesday night, when he recorded a goal and two assists in the Blackhawks’ 6-4 victory over the Washington Capitals.
Saad starts this season much like he ended it, as part of the Blackhawks’ third line, which now features Jimmy Hayes and Andrew Shaw. The team’s third line was a standout one many times last season, and Saad said the group has the same goal in 2013-14.
“That’s what we’re looking to do,” Saad said. “Looking to be that difference maker. We had that last year, and that’s what you need to have success and go far.”
As far as adapting to a somewhat different role, Saad should be just fine. He took the first-line assignment and ran with it last season. He plays a solid defensive game, will chase down the puck in tough areas and is fearless in crashing the net. Can Saad continue to collect points on the third line like he did last season on the first?
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“Absolutely,” Brandon Bollig said. “We’re a deep team. I guess you could call it a third line, but he’s playing with Shaw and Hayes, who are darn good players. With the caliber of player he is, whatever line you put him on he can be productive. He’s a good young star for a reason. He’ll definitely have a good year.”
Coach Joel Quenneville concurred. After all, if Saad could put up solid numbers last season (10 goals and 17 assists in 46 games) against opponents’ top defenders and checkers, he should remain productive in his new role.
“He may see a different matchup defensively than he did last year. One on one, he’s as good a young kid in the league as there is,” Quenneville said. “He was with that group in the playoffs, and that should make a strong line with him on it. He’s strong in the puck area, has speed off the rush, can make plays and gives us versatility. He can play with top players. That line to me is dangerous in a lot of ways.”
Saad will obviously try to produce whenever possible but said he has priorities as a checking liner.
“We want to check off the first goal: playing well defensively. But we have some skilled guys on our line and we’re looking to produce as well and be that difference maker out there,” he said. “If we can chip in and help the team, that’s what’s going to make us successful.”
Saad has grown up fast with the Blackhawks, and the ‘Man-Child’ is more of the former than the latter these days. He’s no longer the new kid trying to carve his niche on the team. He’s at home with this team.
“I’m feeling more comfortable,” he said. “Coming into this year’s definitely different. This year I feel great and I’m looking forward to getting it going. Being more comfortable, you know everyone and you know the system. There are no excuses.”