Brandon Saad: How Much Should Blackhawks Fans Expect?

As the playoffs continue without the Chicago Blackhawks, fans have already started making lists of free agents the team should target.

There are two primary concerns being expressed by everyone surrounding Chicago: they need another top-four defenseman (preferably physical), and a top-six forward to compliment the four core forwards at the top of the roster. Because Patrick Kane and Marian Hossa both perform best at right wing, the natural concern is for a left wing to skate opposite one of them.

The top prospect in the Blackhawks organization happens to be a left wing. And after a few, albeit brief, glimpses this year, fans have high hopes for Brandon Saad. But how much should fans realistically hope to see from him as a rookie next year?

Saad has an impressive season in the OHL as the captain of the Saginaw Spirit. Many fans have a moment of pause when considering a player making the jump straight from juniors to the NHL, but there is a case study Hawks fans can look to that should provide a glimpse of hope.

When Central Scouting posted their final rankings for the 2011 NHL Draft, Saad dropped from eighth to 19th among North American Skaters. By comparison, the two first round picks by the Blackhawks, Mark McNeill and Phillip Danault, were ranked 14th and 27th, respectively.

Looking back at the mid-term ratings, there were two forwards from the OHL ranked in the top eight: Saad and the then-number one overall ranked North American Skater, Gabriel Landeskog.

Landeskog wound up being selected second overall by the Colorado Avalanche, and played the entire 2011-12 season in the NHL. Saad slipped all the way to the 43rd overall selection, where the Blackhawks happily picked him.

For the Avs this year, Landeskog scored 22 goals and added 30 assists in 82 games and was named a finalist for the Calder Trophy.

Obviously the Chicago and Colorado organizations are in different places and the expectations of Landeskog among the young core with the Avs was different as a top pick on an underwhelming team. Beyond their draft placement, there are reasons Saad went back to juniors and Landeskog played 82 NHL games last year: one team needed their top prospect, while the other felt they could wait a year.

But there is solid grounds for comparison between the two players.

Landeskog is listed at 6’0″ and 201 pounds, while Saad is listed at 6’1″ and 202. So clearly physical¬†size isn’t something that separates them by much.

Looking back at the 2010-11 season provides further evidence that fans should feel comfortable expecting a solid rookie season from Saad.

In the one season they were both in the OHL, Landeskog scored 36 goals and added 30 assists in 53 regular season games for the Kitchener Rangers. That same season, Saad scored 27 goals and added 28 assists in 59 games for Saginaw. Not an enormous difference.

This year, Saad elevated his game and scored 34 goals with 42 assists to total 76 points in only 44 games. Saad ranked 18th in the OHL in total points this year, but was the only player among the league’s top 20 that played fewer than 53 games; only two other players in the top 20 played fewer than 60 games.

Both Landeskog and Saad played in two postseasons in the OHL. With Kitchener between the 2010 and 2011 playoffs, Landeskog had 33 points (14 goals, 19 assists) in 27 games. Between the 2011 and 2012 playoffs with Saginaw, Saad had 29 points (11 goals, 18 assists) in only 24 games.

As you can see, the differences between the two aren’t enormous. And Landeskog was a key player for the Avs this season despite being a teenager. Should the Blackhawks give Saad a similar opportunity to the one given to Landeskog by the Avs this year, that would mean he’s skating top-six minutes with at least two all-stars on his line (an upgrade from whomever Landeskog skated with in Denver).

If the Blackhawks could get a 20-goal, 50-point season from a left wing this season, no matter the age of the player, that would be an enormous boost to the roster. If they can get that contribution from Saad, who doesn’t turn 20 until the end of October, they can conserve their financial resources to address other issues.

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9 Responses to Brandon Saad: How Much Should Blackhawks Fans Expect?

  1. Fansince68 says:

    Great article Tab! I wholeheartedly agree. Saad should and will provide a 20 goal season if paired with one of the top two lines. He’s a player that needs to play with top players to maximize his potential. Bringing him in to skate on 3rd or 4th line, to me, is useless. For rounding out the top six, they should explore trade possibilities by packaging Stalberg and one of our prospects. They would still have ample cap space available to chase a 3-4 defenseman.

  2. AJ says:

    Landeskog was talked about as a ridiculously hard worker, 100% effort at all times and the safer pick

    Saad allegedly dropped down because he disappeared that same year half way through the season before they were drafted and has been said to be lackadaisical at times and complaints about not going hard to the net with any consistency or drive and shying away from the physical game that his frame should allow.

    Big difference bossing teenagers when you’re bigger / stronger / faster than everyone else. Look no further than Bolland’s numbers at that level or Beach or Morin to a certain extent…

  3. Tab Bamford says:

    And yet, AJ, he was named captain this year and had no problem playing a physical game. It’s easy to sugar coat one perspective, and I acknowledged that it’s hard to project juniors numbers to the NHL. But we have a player that was part of the same league at the same time to compare him to, and the work ethic questions have been put to bed by his performance on and off the ice this season.

  4. JJ says:

    Tab, you are absolutely 100% correct regarding Saad. For a teenager he has all the tools. Linemates/pairings make you and break you when it comes to stats (see Leddy). And he would probably be mentored (pushed) by the veterans towards 100% effort 100% of the time.

    2 questions for you, in your opinion:
    1) Who are the two all-stars he should play alongside?
    2) What would you do for the final piece in the top six?

  5. Tuke says:

    @Fansince68, Just out of curiosity why would you want to trade away one of the fastest skaters in the league that has finally started to figure out how to use that speed to his advantage that not only had a breakout season last year and potted 22 goals but more importantly has a cap hit less than 1 million dollars?

    There are other players, picks, & prospects that should be shopped before Vic should.

  6. AJ says:

    With the exception of the World Juniors…

    There is no knowing he will be the next big thing until he plays against men for more than 3 games.

    I like that he won some pucks along the boards, looked fine in his own zone and made some smart plays in the playoffs but also not 100% sold is all I am saying. Hope he works out.

  7. Brad Stevenson says:

    No matter how good he was in juniors, you are right, we simply don’t and won’t know anything about Saad as an NHLer until he plays there…I thought he looked good in his 2 playoff games, but that doesn’t mean Calder trophy…going into the season thinking that Brandon Saad is the top 6 forward that this team desperately needs to fill out the roster is INSANITY…not that he can’t be, but to bank on it, is beyond crazy.

    Bowman needs to join reality and start doing his JOB and that is filling out this roster with proven talent that can win in the playoffs, and that is not Brandon Saad…and I say this as a HUGE fan of Brandon Saads potential NHL talent…

  8. Tom L says:

    I was really high on Saad from preseason, but I think the questions about him playing hard all the time are valid concerns.
    I saw him play a game live in the playoffs this year and he looked completely disinterested in the 1st period…no backchecking, just out there floating offensively too. He came out in the 2nd and was dominant, making clever passes that were not even obvious options from sitting in the stands. He potted 2 assists and then kind of drifted off again.
    I’m reserving judgement until I see this guy bring it every shift for at least a season. I have no doubt this guy CAN do it but wonder if he WILL.

  9. Gou says:

    We have had 2 years of trying to fill in to much good talent that had to be let go. Last year we were spoon fed a group of aged veterans to fill in for talent they could never replace.
    You put good talent with good proven players and work ethic as well as their ability to perform rises up. Saad needs to be with that type of mentality to understand what it takes. He will get that from guys like #19.

    There are some other excellent young talents that would fit and the right price.
    There will still be money left over to help with a few other holes.

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