Chicago Blackhawks' Brandon Saad, left, carries the puck in front of Columbus Blue Jackets' Ryan Johansen during the first period of an NHL hockey game in Columbus, Ohio, Thursday, March 14, 2013. (AP Photo/Paul Vernon)
During the offseason, Madhouse Enforcer has been bringing you player evaluations of all the players on the Chicago Blackhawks who played at least five games for the team in the 2013 Stanley Cup winning season. We’ll examine what these players did right, what they did wrong, and what they can improve upon for next season’s title defense.
Today’s subject is Calder Trophy-nominated forward Brandon Saad.
When Saad broke camp as a member of the Blackhawks, there were few observers who could have expected the impact that he would have on the team in his first full season with the Hawks.
In that season, he had 10 goals and 17 assists, and played significant minutes both on the third line with Andrew Shaw and Viktor Stalberg, but more impressively on the Hawks’ top line with captain Jonathan Toews and veteran sniper Marian Hossa.
What stood out more than any statistical achievement that Saad had was the cool and collected way that he went about his business when head coach Joel Quenneville put him on that top line.
The youngster recognized what his role was supposed to be immediately, allowing Toews to focus on the facilitating aspect of the game and trying to complement Hossa in getting to open scoring areas on the ice.
Equally impressive was the speed with which Saad played the game. Normally, young players are pensive in the offensive zone for fear of making a mistake, but buoyed by the confidence in playing with solid defensive players like Shaw and Toews, Saad deployed his quick feet at will and really made an impression on fans and the coaching staff alike.
There are obviously plenty of areas that Saad can improve upon if he is going to continue to play in the Hawks’ top six. The first and most important is that he needs to make sure to take quality shots when he is in the offensive zone. Too often, Saad would break into the offensive zone with the puck and just fire shots at random on net in hopes of sneaking one in, but more often than not, the opposing goaltender would see the shot coming and collect it easily.
The other area that Saad will need to address in the offseason is his power play approach. In even strength situations, Saad seemed at ease, but when the Hawks had the man-advantage, Saad didn’t seem like he was able to fit into the Hawks’ gameplan, and only ended up with four power play points in the regular season and postseason combined.
With Chicago struggling in that department, they are going to need their skilled forwards to step up to improve things, and Saad is definitely a guy to keep an eye on in that regard.
Best Game of 2013:
A player that is nominated for Rookie of the Year is going to have plenty of good games on his resume, but Saad had one game that really stood out on April 7th against the Nashville Predators.
In that game, Saad scored the tying goal about halfway into the third period, and then had the only assist on Patrick Kane’s goal that iced the game in the late stages.
In addition to the goal and assist, Saad played over 19 minutes of ice time in the contest, and had three shots on goal.
Outlook for 2013-14:
One of the biggest unanswered questions for the Blackhawks going into next season is who will begin the campaign as their second line center, and according to GM Stan Bowman, one of the prime contenders for that spot is going to be Saad.
On its face, it seems like an odd choice. Both Kane and Patrick Sharp have experience playing the center position for the Hawks, and yet neither one of them is really considered a contender for the role. The team could also be looking at prospects like Brandon Pirri to fill the spot, and could also look at other in-house players like Andrew Shaw and Marcus Kruger to make the jump into the top six, but Saad is one of the more intriguing candidates.
His credentials as a center at the NHL level are slightly suspect because of his game’s predication on speed over responsible two-way play, but in fairness to him, we haven’t really seen a lot of his game in those kinds of situations. He did play limited penalty killing minutes at times during the season, but he really didn’t stand out in that area with guys like Kruger and Michael Frolik grabbing all of the attention.
If Saad is serious about vying for the role of second line center, then he is definitely going to need to prove to the coaching staff that he is capable of taking on the defensive responsibility associated with the position, as well as being able to handle the demands of getting the puck to players like Sharp and Hossa on a regular basis.
If he can handle both of those jobs, then he very well might be the answer that the Hawks are looking for on the second line, but even if he isn’t, look for him to get plenty of chances to crack the top six throughout the upcoming season.