'Man-child' Saad making steady progress

Even at the age of 20, Brandon Saad is turning into a problem for opposing goalies. Brian Cassella/Chicago Tribune/MCT/Getty Images

CHICAGO -- It's hard to improve on near perfection, but the steady development of 20-year-old Brandon Saad is giving the record-setting Chicago Blackhawks a reason to be optimistic that even better things are yet to come.

The 6-foot-1, 203-pound forward turned in the first three-point game (goal, two assists) of his young career on Tuesday as the Hawks extended their record to 23 games without a regulation loss to start the season as they sit at 20-0-3.

"I thought he had a special game," Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said after the win. "I thought he made some great plays, had the puck a lot, drew some penalties and scored a nice goal as well. I thought he continues to improve. That line was dangerous and a threat [Tuesday] as well."

Saad's season has been full of twists and turns. He wasn't even sure if he'd make the Blackhawks' roster out of the shortened training camp or return to the AHL. He was scratched in the season opener and then thrown onto the top line beside Marian Hossa and Jonathan Toews due to Daniel Carcillo's injury. Saad didn't register his first point of the season until his ninth game, but he's been on the upswing ever since.

The 24-year-old Toews knows something about playing beyond his years, and he's seen that in Saad. Toews was asked Tuesday why Saad has performed so well.

"Because he's the ‘Man-child,' that's what we call him," Toews said. "He's an absolute beast out there. He's so strong and fearless. He goes into those corners and those tight areas and there could be two guys coming after him, and he's bouncing them both off the puck, and he's creating scoring chances off of it. It's pretty cool to see that there's no situation where he can't come up with the puck.

"He's got his head up more and more, and you see those plays with Hossa and I. We're getting better and better as a line. It's fun to see him have a big night like that. We know we're going to keep that going."

Hossa has been just as impressed. Early on, Hossa and Toews tried to guide Saad, but Saad's been requiring their instructions less as time has passed.

"Everybody is forgetting how young [he is]," Hossa aid. "It's amazing. ... He's a great player. His speed, he's so strong on the puck. So obviously, he's getting better and better. He's developing really well."

Consistency has been Saad's biggest progression. Rockford IceHogs coach Ted Dent, who coached Saad in the AHL, said early in the NHL season Saad had plenty of talent, but just needed to find a way to produce on a regular basis.

Saad recently said he was aware of that, too, and was focusing on it.

"It's something I definitely need to work on," Saad said. "Everyone needs to become a pro. It's something I've been working on, and I've felt pretty good so far. It's going well with the flow of things."

Saad's recent numbers reflect that as well. He's had a goal or an assist in four of the past seven games. Through three games in March, he's already matched his point total (four) of January and February combined.

Quenneville has seen the growth and knows a lot more about Saad's game, but he hadn't heard of the "Man-child" nickname until Tuesday.

"That's the first I heard of that," Quenneville said with a laugh. "See, I'm always the last guy to know."