Chicago Blackhawks rookie Brandon Saad is learning the pro game in a pretty high-profile gig.
The 'Hawks wound up on the losing end of a 3-2 shootout decision to Anaheim Tuesday night. Following Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane in the shootout was not Patrick Sharp but Saad.
Like Kane, Saad's attempt met the pad of Viktor Fasth, ending the 'Hawks chances of getting two points. Despite coming up empty, though, Saad showcased a lot of the skills that have him in Chicago's top six.
Last month, I wrote that I thought Saad would be better served spending more time honing his game in Rockford before making the jump to the Blackhawks. Though I still harbor a bit of that mindset, there is no denying that Saad has performed well in his first extended stretch in the bigs.
What has impressed me in watching Saad with Chicago is similar to what drew my attention when watching him with the IceHogs—his breakaway speed.
Saad is making a habit of using his extra gear to make runs at the net and draw penalties. He is generating shots on goal and posted his second career goal in style.
Taking the puck to the left faceoff circle, Saad left his skates to launch a shot toward Fasth midway through the second period. The shot was blocked by the Ducks goalie, but struck his back and rolled into the net on a play that was reviewed by the league office.
The goal gave Chicago a 2-1 lead. Ultimately, the 'Hawks would let that advantage slip away in the final minutes, but at that point of the game, it was a huge goal for an NHL youngster to pull off.
Saad sat out the first game of the 2013 season while Daniel Carcillo skated with Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa. He was inserted into the lineup following Carcillo's knee injury and hasn't looked back.
Now, with Carcillo preparing to return to active duty, it's hard to imagine coach Joel Quenneville yanking Saad off that top line.
In Rockford, Saad would flash moments like we've seen in Chicago, then go away for a while. That hasn't been the case so far, though we're just past the quarter pole in this abbreviated season.
As a young player, Saad can always get stronger, having shown a willingness to go into the corners to get the puck.
Saad may have played his best game as a member of the Blackhawks Tuesday night. If he can continue to keep up with Chicago's top six, Saad could keep up his on-ice studies with the 'Hawks.