The Chicago Blackhawks have a gem in Brandon Saad.
After a slow start to the 2013 season, in terms of his offensive production anyways, Saad should now be mentioned as a front-runner in the race to win the Calder Trophy.
After playing in two games for the Blackhawks the year he was drafted, the team decided one more year in junior with the Saginaw Spirit would be best for his overall development.
They were right.
With the Spirit, in 2011-12, Saad blossomed, scoring 34 goals and adding another 42 assists in only 44 games.
With the first half of this NHL season postponed due to the lockout, Saad's appearance with the Blackhawks was put on hold. Instead, he spent 31 games with the Rockford Icehogs.
It gave Saad time to adjust to the speed of professional hockey, albeit one level from the top, play against NHL-caliber players who called the league home because of the lockout and was also able to build up his confidence so he could become a significant part of the Blackhawks.
Saad's first full (or technically half) season in the NHL did not work out entirely as planned.
He was a healthy scratch in the first game of the season. But, when Daniel Carcillo went down with an injury the Blackhawks came calling for their young rookie.
He was not going to disappoint them.
The 20-year-old native of Pittsburgh, Penn. stepped not only into the lineup, but also right onto the top line with Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa.
Many would expect that playing with two of the biggest stars in the NHL would translate into lots of points for the offensively gifted Saad. However, that was not the case.
It took him nine games before he recorded his point of the season, and his NHL career. But that stat does not do justice to the way he was playing.
Saad is a complete player. He is able to play in all situations and anywhere on the ice. The biggest sign that this is true is Blackhawks head coach Joel Quenneville trusts him.
Compared to all rookie forwards this season, Saad ranks fifth in total ice time. Throw in the fact that he can play on the penalty kill and also on the power play, and it goes to show just how effective of a player he is.
Considering how deep of a team the Blackhawks are, and their ability to roll lines, Saad's amount of ice time becomes even more impressive.
It makes it a lot easier for Quenneville to trust him when he sports a plus-6 rating, as well. The only two rookie forwards ahead of him in that category are Brendan Gallagher and Alex Galchenyuk, both of the Montreal Canadiens.
Although it took him a while to get that first point, once he did, his offensive production has exploded.
Since that Feb. 5 game against the San Jose Sharks, Saad has put up three goals to go along with seven assists in 16 games. Even better, Saad has got at least a point in his last four games, collecting one goal and five assists.
It seems Saad just keeps getting hotter and hotter. Hopefully, this trend will continue. After all, no matter how good a player is all-around, the Calder winner generally goes to a high point-producer.
Saad currently sits in the top 10 of all the offensive categories; goals, assists and points. This may be the one part of his game he will need to improve in order to cement himself as the Calder winner.
Nonetheless, if the decision makers looked at everything a player can do on the ice, rather than just being able to put the puck into the back of the net, it would be a no-brainer.
Saad plays hard every shift, battles for pucks in the open ice and in the corners, scores goals, sets teammates up and has shown the natural ability to play with some of the world's best players.
It will remain to be seen however, who ultimately ends up winning the award.
But with the Blackhawks gaining more attention than usual, due to the extend point streak that swept the NHL by storm, Saad has been able to push himself into Calder contention.
Hopefully, now that the streak is over, people will continue to watch this rookie blossom into the Calder threat he deserves to be.
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