Saad’s great numbers this season in juniors have been repeated a hundred times by every Hawks reporter/blog out there this week: 34 goals in 44 games with Saginaw of the OHL.
But there’s a key part of that statement that cannot be ignore: he was in juniors.
Now, the 19-year-old second round pick is getting thrown into the fire in a series that got serious in a hurry on Tuesday night when Raffi Torres ended Marian Hossa’s night early.
Saad skated over 28 combined minutes in his two regular season appearances, the first two games of the season against Dallas. His workload including 14:57 in the Hawks’ 5-2 victory that began their home schedule this year. Saad was credited with three shots on goal in the two games.
But there is a huge risk for the Hawks to put the teenager in the lineup, and that concern was made real in Game Three.
The loss of Hossa, arguably one of the best two-way forwards in the league, was compounded by rookie defenseman Dylan Olsen’s apparent deer-in-the-headlights response to his first NHL playoff action. To say he looked timid on the ice would be as accurate as saying Andrew Brunette looked a touch slow; Olsen appeared to be overwhelmed, and coach Joel Quenneville limited him to nine shifts and under five minutes of total ice time on the night.
Why does that matter?
The Blackhawks effectively played over 73 minutes of intense playoff hockey with 11 forwards and five defensemen; their bench was essentially short two players all night.
There’s a reason Michael Frolik has skated in place of Jimmy Hayes, and it wasn’t Quenneville believing that he would score a goal for the first time this calendar year. Experience means a great deal in the NHL playoffs, and the Hawks are going to battle with two 21-year-olds playing major minutes already (Nick Leddy and Marcus Kruger).
Fans and media members (and Blackhawks management) can hope that Saad’s playoff performance in the OHL this spring (17 points in 12 games) carries over and that his sky-high confidence breeds a naivete that keeps him from being consumed by the moment.
But if Saad is shaky in any way, a series that has seen all three games go well into overtime could be taxing on the Blackhawks’ top players yet again.
There’s plenty of hype coming to the game with Saad tonight. How will he respond? And how will it impact the rest of the Blackhawks roster? Those burning questions could determine the result of this first round series.