CHICAGO | From almost the moment he signed with the Blackhawks in 2011, Brandon Saad has been under the bubble of publicity as a future producer.
Now that future is present, there’s nowhere to hide.
Especially after Saad’s fine rookie season to help the Hawks to the Stanley Cup has persuaded coach Joel Quenneville he could be the answer to the second-line center opening.
“Whether that’s a line to start the season, who knows at this point?” said winger Patrick Sharp, who flanks Saad along with fellow veteran Marian Hossa. “If it is, we’ll do our best to help him out.”
Saad, still not yet 21, will certainly be all ears between the veterans and coaches getting into his ear and trying to be in the right places on ice.
“We have great centers on this team to look up to,” Saad said. “And playing with Sharp and ‘Hoss’, they’re both phenomenal players and both play well defensively. So that definitely helps me out.”
Following drills and scrimmages at both Notre Dame last week and the Training Camp Festival before 16,000 at the United Center Monday, Quenneville will be in the serious analytical stage on Saad.
He specifically wanted to see how Saad handles center defensively starting with the first pre-season game at home against Detroit Tuesday night.
Saad has a total of six exhibition contests before the Oct. 1 season opener to adjust to the position to his coach’s satisfaction.
“I feel better each day,” Saad said. “I’m looking forward to getting into some real exhibition games here, to be a good tempo and get (experience).
“Everybody’s looking forward to real games. That’s going to be the true test. I’m looking forward to getting in the groove and testing it out there.”
Offense should be of little concern. Saad was in the running as top NHL rookie last season with 10 goals and 17 assists in 46 games.
Adeptly handling faceoffs should be a big challenge. But Saad is not starting from scratch in the pre-season.
“I’ve watched video last year,” he said. ”During the playoffs a lot, I worked with (Jonathan) Toews and a bunch of guys. I know when Toews got tossed out, I went in as a second man. It’s a learning experience. I worked on that a lot in playoffs a lot more, and it’s going to be a process this year, too.”
Sharp also knows the process. A strong winger, he shifted to second-line center for the Hawks’ 2010 Stanley Cup run.
“The coaches have done a good job talking to him,” Sharp said. “As a centerman, you got to be able to distribute the puck. Playing with him, I’m on his backhand. Hopefully he can find a way to get it over to me. He’s been playing well. He skates well. He’s great getting the puck back whether it’s down low or in the offensive zone.
“He’s a guy who obviously is a strong skater. I thought he had a great season as a left winger last year. It says a lot for Brandon that the coaches are willing to slide him over there and try him.”