The 18-year-old second round pick from this past June is turning heads enough that he might be in consideration to break camp with the Hawks instead of being sent back to juniors. And that was even before he scored the game-winning goal in a 3-2 victory over the Washington Capitals on Friday night at the United Center.
“It was pretty awesome,” said Saad, who also assisted on Viktor Stalberg's first goal. “It’s still sinking in, but it’s pretty awesome for sure.”
Joel Quenneville must feel the same way. The Blackhawks coach has raved about Saad since training camp began.
“There is always a surprise or two every camp,” Quenneville said. “He’s someone we talk about regularly. He’s got good puck presence. You notice him shift to shift. The puck follows him around, he protects it, he can keep it, he can make plays, he sees plays, his anticipation is high-end. I think he’s one of those players that can play with good players and sees the game at a good level.”
Quenneville went on and on for good reason. Saad’s decision making on both scoring plays was top-notch, not to mention his execution. He sent a perfect pass to Stalberg across the slot for his helper then buried the game winner after a Jonathan Toews set-up.
“I’ve been working hard all around, but finally got a couple in,” Saad said.
Quenneville didn’t rule it out when asked if Saad could make the team.
“I don’t know,” he said. “If he keeps doing that every day we’ll probably be talking about him the next day. So I don’t know, we’ll see. It’s not something I think we envisioned, but every year, every training camp there is always somebody that will get your attention and capture it and you have to look at the case a little differently. I think he’s done that.”
Saad was considered a first-round talent but dropped to the second round, 43rd overall. The Blackhawks’ two 2011 first-round picks, Mark McNeill and Phillip Danault, have already been sent back to their junior teams and Saad is the only Hawk to play in all three preseason games. Quenneville indicated he would play in Sunday’s game as well. Those facts might be more telling than any about Saad’s chances of making the team.
“It’s a little motivation, but I try not to worry about the past too much,” Saad said of dropping in the draft. “It’s a fresh start.”
Saad got his chances in the third period when Quenneville moved him up to play with Toews and Stalberg. Toews knows a little something about making the team as a teenager.
“You have to have the right mind set,” he explained. “You’re not going to move over for the older guys. You have to have that confidence that you can play against them and fit right in. You have that respect for them in the locker room, but when you get out there on the ice it’s anyone’s game. It’s all about finding that confidence. He’s one of those guys that’s showing he can do that.”
A nice story or a real chance at bumping a veteran and making the roster?
“It’s still early in camp but it’s been fun watching him,” Quenneville said.
Stalberg scored twice in the third period. Quenneville said he’s having a “very good camp.”
The Hawks will take their first day off on Saturday before taking on the Detroit Red Wings on Sunday afternoon.