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Saad’s emergence inspires Blackhawks hopefuls

Chicago Blackhawks left wing BrandSaad (20) collides with BostBruins defenseman Dennis Seidenberg (44) second period during Game 2 NHL hockey

Chicago Blackhawks left wing Brandon Saad (20) collides with Boston Bruins defenseman Dennis Seidenberg (44) in the second period during Game 2 of the NHL hockey Stanley Cup Finals, Saturday, June 15, 2013, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh) ORG XMIT: CXA125

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• 10-11:15 a.m.: Practice, Groups 1 and 2

• 11:30 a.m.-12:45 p.m.: Practice, Groups 3 and 4


• 10-11 a.m.: Practice, Team A

• 11:30 a.m.: Scrimmage, Team A vs. Team B


• 10-11 a.m.: Practice, Team B

• 11:30 a.m.: Scrimmage, Team A vs. Team B


• 10 a.m.: Scrimmage, Team A vs. Team B

Updated: August 10, 2013 6:37AM

Last July, a 19-year-old kid named Brandon Saad was one of 52 participants in the Blackhawks’ annual prospect camp. Eleven months later, he was hoisting the Stanley Cup.

Saginaw Spirit winger Garret Ross, a good friend and former teammate of Saad’s, was watching. So was Notre Dame senior-to-be Stephen Johns, who played with Saad with the Pittsburgh Hornets Midget team. So was Phillip Danault, a prized center who couldn’t help but wonder if he could follow the same trail Saad blazed as a 20-year-old rookie.

“It’s awesome to watch him and what he did this year,” Johns said. “Hopefully, I can join him one day.”

While it’s a long shot that any of the 51 participants in the Hawks’ prospect camp this week will have the stars align the way they did for Saad so early in his career — Johns, for one, is committed to finishing his Irish career — Saad’s magical season serves as inspiration, motivation and a cause for celebration for the prospects.

Because while it’s rare for a player so young — at least for one not taken at the very top of a draft, like Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane were — to crack the lineup of an elite NHL team, everyone now knows it’s possible.

So, sure, Danault probably will spend next season in Rockford after tearing up the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League for 223 points in 182 games in the last three seasons. But he also can entertain the idea of filling the Hawks’ longstanding void at second-line center and skating between Patrick Sharp and Kane or Marian Hossa.

“I think Saader was probably nervous to play [with] Toews and Hossa this year, but it’s part of hockey,” Danault said. “They want to make us confident on the ice. That’s what they do and they won the Cup. So they will do it again, for sure.”

Ross, who had 44 goals and 46 assists in 61 games last season for Saginaw of the Ontario Hockey League, cut back on his frequent texts to Saad during the playoffs. But he definitely was keeping a close eye on his buddy.

“For him to accomplish every player’s dream of winning the Stanley Cup at the age of 20, it definitely gives me inspiration,” Ross said.

Saad was a second-round pick in 2011 and surprised everybody by making the opening-day roster that season. He played two games before returning to Saginaw, then played in two playoff games that spring. With the benefit of 31 games in Rockford during the lockout, he proved himself with a good training camp and got his opportunity to play when Daniel Carcillo injured his knee in the season opener. The rest is history.

Can any of the current prospects do the same? The odds are slim. But Saad’s story serves as proof that anything’s possible.

“They made great trades — [Dave] Bolland, [Michael] Frolik — and it opened some spots,” Danault said. “And like [GM Stan Bowman] said, the young guys have to prove that they can make the team. The AHL guys who’ve been playing for three years are more ready than us, probably. But we’ve got to prove ourselves in the real camp.”

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