Saad to get chance at second-line center

Brandon Saad established trust with the coaching staff during a strong rookie season. Dave Sandford/NHLI via Getty Images

CHICAGO -- As a rookie, Brandon Saad filled a void for the Chicago Blackhawks as a top-line winger.

In Saad’s second season, he’ll get the chance to be the second-line center the Blackhawks have been desperately searching for in recent seasons.

Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said Saturday he planned to give Saad a chance to win the spot when training camp begins in September.

“[Saad] is probably the guy we’re thinking maybe grab that spot, would be an option,” Quenneville said while talking to the media during the Blackhawks convention. “It’s something we talked about as a staff late in the year. It’s something going into the season we could be exploring.

“We had him out there on our own end with [Jonathan Toews] and [Marian Hossa]; a lot of times we’d just leave him out there knowing if we lose a faceoff or Johnny gets tossed he can go in there for the draw. That was in place almost all year, so you’re comfortable with that scenario.”

Quenneville wasn’t afraid to throw the 20-year-old Saad into the fire as a rookie last season. After Daniel Carcillo suffered an injury in the season opener, Quenneville place Saad on the top line beside Toews and Hossa. Saad flourished there and was a finalist for the Calder Memorial Trophy after producing 10 goals and 17 assists in the regular season.

Quenneville didn’t think Saad would have any trouble stepping into another large role as the second-line center next season.

“I think down low in our end [it’s] something we can explore,” Quenneville said. “I think offensively you know he’s going to be fine in the middle because he’s got the puck, knows what to do with it. Defensively, I think we can get him up to speed. I thought [Andrew Shaw] got up to speed in a relatively short amount of time. It’s something we’re likely going to try.”

Quenneville tried an assortment of players there during 2013. Dave Bolland was given first crack, but he couldn’t hold onto the job because of injuries and inconsistencies. Marcus Kruger and Andrew Shaw also saw time there in the regular season. Michal Handzus possessed the spot for most of the playoffs.

If Saad doesn’t win the job, Quenneville said Shaw, Kruger, Handzus, Brandon Pirri and Drew LeBlanc could also be options.

“At the end of the day, I mean I don’t really care who’s going to grab it, but it’s a nice spot for somebody,” Quenneville said.