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.