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Blackhawks’ Pirri, Saad still in the mix after Smith, Stalberg injuries

BrandPirri (left) BrandSaad have had impressive preseasons. | Scott Stewart~Sun-Times (left) Getty Images

Brandon Pirri (left) and Brandon Saad have had impressive preseasons. | Scott Stewart~Sun-Times (left), Getty Images

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Updated: November 15, 2011 9:43AM

General manager Stan Bowman called it.

Days before training camp began, Bowman described the looming battles for a couple of forward spots as ‘‘up for grabs’’ but also had words of caution.

‘‘Without putting guys in lines and setups, we’ve got a lot of bodies up front, and there’s always a possibility of injuries,’’ Bowman told the Sun-Times at the time.

‘‘Can you make it through training camp without any [injuries]? It seems like every year we have at least one or two that might be short-term or could be a long-term injury. That could change the mix, as well.’’

Well, he was right. The Blackhawks lost forwards Ben Smith (day-to-day with a concussion) and Viktor Stalberg (out three weeks with a leg injury) in one game. Stalberg was definitely in the mix with a new two-year deal, while Smith was a notch above the rest of the Hawks’ prospects.

Now it looks like winger Brandon Saad and center Brandon Pirri
have a shot at staying past the
exhibition game Sunday against the Washington Capitals as Smith and Stalberg recover from their injuries and Daniel Carcillo gets ready to serve a two-game suspension to open the season.

The Hawks might elect to keep the maximum 23 players to start the season, especially with forwards Patrick Sharp (appendectomy) and Dave Bolland (non-serious, upper-body injury) also battling injuries.

‘‘We’re playing at the highest level in the world and doing something we love, so you’re just trying to have fun with it but also do your job out there,’’ Pirri said. ‘‘I’m just trying to take it day by day and leave everything out there.’’

It’s safe to say Pirri has surpassed Marcus Kruger on the depth chart. Pirri leads the Hawks with four goals and five points this preseason. Kruger, who came to camp with high hopes after being
praised by the Hawks’ brass, has done little. Simply put, Pirri has handled playing with different players better than Kruger has.

‘‘[Pirri has] got some skill,’’ coach Joel Quenneville said. ‘‘He’s been a producer his whole life. He sees plays. He’s quicker in his game, and he’s patient with the puck more than he was. He has a nice finish around the net, so it’s been a nice camp for him.”

Quenneville also continues to gush about Saad, the 43rd overall pick in the draft in June.

Saad had an assist and a minus-1 rating against a quality Pittsburgh Penguins team Friday. He can’t be sent to the Rockford IceHogs
because he’s only 18. With an ­entry-level deal, he can play up to nine games with the Hawks before being assigned to his junior team. If he plays in 10 or more, he must stay with the Hawks for the season.

‘‘He’s played a lot of games here, and I still think he does a lot of good things,’’ Quenneville said. ‘‘You’ve got to appreciate his patience and his recognition in the puck area. .  .  . We’ve been pleased with him.’’

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