Updated: December 18, 2013 10:15PM
He has been on the top line, the second line and the third line. He has been a left wing, a right wing and even briefly a center. He has played with Jonathan Toews and Patrick Sharp, with Brandon Pirri and Patrick Kane, with Andrew Shaw and Bryan Bickell, with Joakim Nordstrom and Sheldon Brookbank. He has been a scorer and a checker, a setup man and a finisher. And he has been on the power play and the penalty kill.
Blackhawks forward Brandon Saad has been a constant force in an inconstant role.
“He’s been useful for us,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “He can play in a lot of different situations.”
Indeed, the second-year standout has played just about everywhere this season. And that versatility just might allow him to play in one more place — Sochi, Russia. The native of the Pittsburgh suburb of Gibsonia is on the bubble for Team USA, which will announce its Olympic roster after the Winter Classic on New Year’s Day. Saad’s rare combination of size, skill, strength and savvy makes him an intriguing possibility for a bottom-six spot.
Offensively, Saad has 12 goals and 14 assists despite having little consistency in linemates. Defensively, he’s second among all NHL forwards with a plus-18 rating, thriving on the Hawks’ third line this season as much as he thrived on their top line last season. On a team that’ll have plenty of goal-scorers — Kane, Bobby Ryan, Phil Kessel, Zach Parise and Ryan Kesler, to name a handful — a 200-foot player such as Saad, who’s able to take on just about any role, could be a difference-maker at the Olympics.
He’ll likely be competing with T.J. Oshie (Blues), Jason Pominville (Wild) and Kyle Okposo (Islanders) for the final couple of roster spots. A recent knee injury to Rangers winger Ryan Callahan could boost Saad’s chances, too.
Like so many of his teammates, Saad has shrugged off the Olympic speculation, while at the same time making no secret that he badly wants to make the team.
“Hopefully,” Saad said. “I’m excited for that announcement, and we’ll see how it goes. It’s out of my hands, but hopefully [the versatility] helps. You never know what they’re thinking, but I think it’s always good to be able to play more than one position.”
Saad takes particular pride in his two-way play, something that showed last season when he fared so well on a line with Toews and Marian Hossa, two of the best defensive forwards in the world. He’s no stranger to offensive frustration — it took him nine games to get his first goal last season, and he had just one goal in 14 games after scoring in each of the first two games this season. So he knows offense comes and goes. Defense doesn’t have to.
“Growing up, I’ve always had a pretty good plus/minus, or at least tried to, and played both ends of the ice,” said Saad, who turned 21 in October. “The production’s not always going to come. So to be able to [play well defensively], it’s just hard work, and it’s something I pride myself on, for sure.”
He prided himself on playing for his country in the 2010 Under-18 world championships, too, helping to lead the United States to a gold medal in Belarus. Now he wants to wear the USA sweater again on the biggest stage of them all.
He could put it out of his mind back in October. But as decision day draws near, Saad can’t help but dream about taking on yet another key role this season.
“It’s always in the back of your mind,” Saad said. “It’s an exciting time of the year, and you’re looking to play well. Hopefully things work out for me.”