Will Brandon Saad stay with the Blackhawks? 7 games to decide
BEN MEYER-ABBOTT ON THE BLACKHAWKS October 9, 2011 10:50PM
Brandon Saad (43) said Friday was a bit nerve-racking, but he felt more comfortable Saturday for the home game. | Bill Smith~Getty Images
Updated: November 16, 2011 11:54AM
Brandon Saad only needed to look at his linemates in his first two NHL games to realize he had made the big time.
Whether Saad — at 18, the fifth-youngest player in the league — stays with the Hawks will depend on how well he continues to play with Jonathan Toews, Patrick Sharp, Patrick Kane and Marian Hossa.
The Hawks have seven more games to decide if they’ll reassign him to his junior team or have a full season counted against the three-year deal he signed at the end of training camp.
“It’s been a great experience,” Saad said after the Hawks’ 5-2 victory over the Dallas Stars on Saturday, a day after he became the youngest player to make his debut for the franchise since Kane in 2007.
“[Friday] was a little nerve-racking at first, just getting the first game in,’’ Saad said. “But [Saturday] at home, I felt more comfortable and thought I played pretty well out there, and it was nice to get the win.”
Saad was moved to the Hawks’ second line Saturday with Kane and Hossa. The switch came after Saad’s stint with Toews and Sharp lasted only one period Friday before coach Joel Quenneville began mixing his lines to spark the Hawks’ offense and compensate for a less-than-full-strength roster.
“It’s a little bit quicker and faster,” Saad said of playing in the regular season compared to exhibition games. “You get a taste of that in the preseason with some of the NHLers playing, but now with the full lineups, everything’s a step quicker.”
Saad played nearly 15 minutes in the victory Saturday after logging 13:05 in the opening-night loss. He had three shots in the two games.
“I didn’t mind him [Friday] at all, and I thought he was fine [Saturday] as well,” Quenneville said.
Not exactly glowing praise. But Saad was offered some words of encouragement by Toews, who made his NHL debut at 19.
“It’s not easy for a young kid to go out there, especially to start on the road in a pressure situation when we’re trailing the whole game,” Toews said.
“He made some good plays, and you see that he’s still working to get his feet under him, but I think every guy in here can vouch for how difficult it is. But he’s not complaining. He’s working hard, he’s going out there with confidence and he knows he can get the job done, so he’s going to keep working and keep getting better.”
And for the time being, Saad said he has the memory of his first game at the United Center.
“It’s unbelievable; it definitely brings you up another notch,” Saad said. “It’s electrifying out there. I really can’t describe it. It’s an amazing feeling.”
NOTES: Coach Joel Quenneville was pleased with what he saw Saturday from center Marcus Kruger, who was recalled from Rockford after an underwhelming training camp.
Kruger was plus-1 with an assist in 11:04 and spent time on the power play and penalty kill.
“He played well,” Quenneville said. “He got better each and every day later in camp, and I thought he enhanced his opportunity to get back here.”
◆ Quenneville said that winger Viktor Stalberg is close to returning to practice for the first time since an apparent knee-to-knee collision in a preseason game Sept. 28.