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Winger Brandon Saad looks like he belongs with Blackhawks’ big boys

BrandSaad had game-winning goal an assist Friday against Capitals. | Scott Stewart~Sun-Times

Brandon Saad had the game-winning goal and an assist Friday against the Capitals. | Scott Stewart~Sun-Times

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Updated: December 1, 2011 5:27AM

According to an unofficial media tally, winger Brandon Saad is about to set a record for using the word “awesome” in one training camp.

Scoring the game-winner against the Capitals in exhibition play?

“It’s pretty awesome, for sure,” Saad said.

Playing with Blackhawks star Jonathan Toews?

“It’s unbelievable with the talent they have out there and being able to play in front of 20,000 people; it’s an awesome building,” he said.

The “roar” during the national anthem at the United Center?

“It’s awesome,” he said.

Forgive Saad if he’s a little awestruck. But if anyone has been “awesome” this preseason, it has been him. Saad, the 43rd overall pick in June’s draft, has earned a longer look from the Hawks. He has been this year’s surprise at camp and is expected to play in his fourth preseason game Sunday against the Red Wings.

“It’s not something I think we envisioned,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “Offensively, things happen every shift. His thought process is very good. He knows how to keep himself in the play. I know it’s still early in camp, but it’s fun watching him.

“He’s got real good puck presence. You notice him shift to shift. The puck follows him around. . . . His anticipation is high-end. He’s one of those players who can play with good players. He sees the game at a good level.”

Saad broke out Friday against the Capitals, scoring the winner in the third period and setting up Viktor Stalberg’s first goal with a smooth feed past a defender. He also was able to hang on a line with Toews and Stalberg in the third period.

“He’s got his head up,” Toews said. “He can skate. He’s got good hands. He’s a good player. He’s confident. . . . Every shift, he’s trying to do something. He’s doesn’t take any shifts off.”

After finishing with 27 goals and 55 points in his first season with the Ontario Hockey League’s Saginaw Spirit, Saad was projected as a first-round pick but fell to the second round.

Now, he’s the only player drafted by the Hawks in 2011 left in camp. Defenseman Duncan Keith, a second-round pick in 2002, understands what Saad is going through.

“Everybody wants to be picked high,” Keith said. “But I think he understands that . . . it’s all about what you do after you’re drafted. He’s had a great camp and seems to be getting better and better as it goes along.”

Saginaw began its season Friday, and, at 18, Saad can’t join the Rockford IceHogs, so the Hawks may decide if he stays longer on Monday.

At 6-1 and 202 pounds, Saad has the size to handle NHL play, but rookies Ben Smith and Marcus Kruger still have the lead on what appears to be one open forward spot.

“Everybody thinks the team is made up in a situation like this, but it really isn’t,” Toews said. “It’s good for him. He’s competing. He’s not giving up on anything. Guys like that deserve an opportunity.”

Saad said all the attention is “a little overwhelming” but added that he’s more mature than his age and can handle it.

“It’s lofty goal, being a younger guy, playing in the top league possible, but that’s what I’m trying to do,” Saad said. “I’m trying to do what I can for them to keep me here.”

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