Joel Quenneville must remember when he was a rookie defenseman on the 1978-79 Toronto Maple Leafs.
He retains that soft spot for those who similarly break into the NHL possessing a bundle nerves and swivel-necks to gauge their coach’s reaction.
Quenneville plays the good cop most of the time with his Blackhawks rookies, giving them a shot more often than he pulls them out of the lineup.
Andrew Shaw was the beneficiary last year of Quenneville’s handling of rookies. Shaw’s now the Hawks’ top on-ice pest.
“I got a lot of confidence,” Shaw said of his break-in pace. “Don’t ever look back, don’t take a deep breath, just keep pushing forward and moving. He’s been great to me.”
Now it’s Brandon Saad’s turn, even as the talented winger experiences his learning curve under fire on the first line in the Stanley Cup Final.
“He's a big player,” Quenneville said of Saad, whose regular season he labeled “outstanding.” “He can make plays. He's dangerous off the rush. Has a heck of a shot. Nice to see him get that one (first Hawks goal in the Final Wednesday). Hopefully he's more comfortable in the scoring area going forward.”
Saad finished third for the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s top rookie, but the 20-year-old Pittsburgh native already had garnered his teammates’ respect as a player mature beyond his years.
“(Quenneville) lets you do your thing,” Saad said. “If you’re not playing well, he’ll let you know. Other than that, he lets you do your thing and I think that’s a big reason I’ve had success.
“My whole game is more well-rounded (since the start of the season). I play both ends of the ice.”
Hyped as a top Hawks prospect since the start of the 2011-12 season, Saad now has to endure more rites of passage for a rookie. The tough, veteran Bruins figure to work him over as the series proceeds to its climax.
“It’s a challenge like any other series,” Saad said. “It’s something you have to battle through. They’re going to key on anybody. It’s the playoffs and they’re not going to let anyone get any space out there. I don’t know if it matters if you’re a rookie or not.
“Playoffs intensity picks up. I don’t know if you want to simplify things and not do too much. It’s a learning experience and the guys have helped me through it.”
Leading those teachers is Hawks captain Jonathan Toews, at whose side Saad has frequently played.
“He’s probably been the biggest help this year,” Saad said. “Just to be around him. He doesn’t need to say anything, but to be around him and see the things he does helps out a lot, and to be able to play with him helps out even more.”