The Chicago Blackhawks were a popular preseason pick to finish in last place in the Central Division. They were coming off a down year, had an uncertain goaltending situation with Corey Crawford still sidelined, and the roster has its share of holes on paper. Through the first four games of the season, however, the Blackhawks are off to a better than expected started, gaining at least a point in each game with a 2-0-2 record.
The biggest reason for the fast start has been Jonathan Toews‘ discovery of the fountain of youth as he looks to bounce back from a down year, as well as the continued development of Alex DeBrincat. That duo, along with Patrick Kane, has carried the Blackhawks’ offense through the first four games and allowed them to overcome some sub-par defense and more bad goaltending.
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Eventually they are going to need more from someone that isn’t one of Toews, DeBrincat or Kane. One player at the top of that list is veteran forward Brandon Saad, who has not only not given them much yet this season, but seems to have been demoted to the fourth-line based on Friday’s practice lines.
Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville simply said that the team needs to see more from him.
Here is what Quenneville had to say on Friday, via NBC Chicago’s Charlie Roumeliotis.
“Saad needs a little bit more consistency with the puck. Losing pucks, we want to make sure, if you are going to lose it, there’s still another level of keeping the puck and not ending it there in that situation. That’s one area he can be better.
“But I still think there’s production there. He’s had some looks. We’re looking for more of the finished product, as we saw those situations come up last year, as well. Krugs’ line always seems to generate something. That line can have more of a purpose defensively and can be an effective line because they usually get some top lines and sometimes they can be exposed in some situations.”
Saad’s career has been a strange one because there is obviously enormous potential with him, but it hasn’t always panned out as expected.
He ended up falling in his draft class, going from at one point a projected top-five pick, all the way down to the back end of the second round following a down year in his draft year. When he first arrived in Chicago he became a key part of a Stanley Cup winning team and looked to be an emerging star in the league. But a salary cap crunch saw him sent him to Columbus after that championship season where he signed a long-term contract. It was at that point that his production leveled off and he eventually found himself back in Chicago prior to the 2017-18 season in exchange for Artemi Panarin.
At the time, the Blackhawks were coming off of a second straight disappointing first-round exit and had some long-term concerns about their ability to re-sign Panarin and fit him under the salary cap.
That resulted in the reunion between the two sides.
Just a little more than one year into it and it is not going well.
While Panarin continued to be an impact player in Columbus, Saad had the worst season of his career in his return to the Blackhawks only 18 goals and 35 total points in 82 games, while somehow managing just a single point on the power play despite logging more than 174 minutes on the man-advantage.
His lack of production and his play did not go unnoticed.
Before the season started The Athletic‘s Scott Powers (sub. required) quoted two anonymous NHL scouts giving scathing reviews of Saad’s play, including one that said, “I think Saad is a guy who plays for a contract. I’m not convinced that he’s a guy who plays for you every night.”
And now, just four games into the season with only a single point and seven shots on goal on the stat sheet, he finds himself skating on the fourth line.
Saad is better than this, and while his 2017-18 numbers were a spectacular disappointment (especially in comparison to what the guy he was traded for did) but there were still signs he could have been better and should be able to bounce back. He was an elite possession player, and you have to think that power play production almost has to get better even if he just stood there and did nothing (one power play point in 174 minutes!).
If the Blackhawks are going to bounce back this season and be better than expected there are three players that have to drive that bus: A healthy Corey Crawford, Jonathan Toews, and Saad. They are getting it so far from Toews, and they are hopeful Crawford can return this week.
Now they just need to get something — anything, really — from Saad.
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Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.