Chicago Blackhawks forward Brandon Saad was a Calder Trophy finalist last season as a wing. He had a very successful career at that position in juniors. He has never been anything but a wing.
Why, then, are the Blackhawks pushing Saad into a new and unfamiliar role?
With training camp underway in South Bend, IN, Chicago is making good on its promise to give Saad some time in the middle of the ice. Management tossed Saad's name into the mix for the annual vacancy at second-line center at this past summer's convention.
So far, the 'Hawks are backing up that talk on the ice.
Saad skated with Marian Hossa and Patrick Sharp on either side of him on Thursday's skate, according to Mark Lazerus of the Chicago Sun-Times. It appears that this experiment is going to take place in some capacity.
Again, I ask: Why move a kid who could potentially become a premier power forward into a position that he has never played?
Saad is young, strong and not afraid to go get the puck in the corners. He has a finishing shot and can create havoc on the fore check. There is good reason he has been a wing all his life.
Can anyone honestly say that Saad is any closer to picking up the intricacies of playing center in the NHL than Brandon Pirri or Drew LeBlanc? Those two youngsters have proven that they can flourish in the middle of the ice—Pirri in Rockford and LeBlanc in college.
Pirri should be getting top-six reps in camp to see if he can translate his AHL numbers (where he was the league's top scorer) to the next level. Whether you agree or not with that assessment, test driving LeBlanc on the second line seems a logical alternative.
Saad can continue to develop without the burden of learning a new position. I would guess that he'll see at least a share of top-six minutes at wing over the course of the season. The 'Hawks have some talented centers coming up in the near future.
There are no guarantees, but there doesn't seem to be a need to make a project out of Saad.
Jimmy Hayes went through a similar process in Rockford last season, with mixed results. Hayes' game is that of a player who looks for his shot on the wing. He'd also be better off there, preferably in a big-minute role with the IceHogs.
Hayes struggled mightily in Rockford as he went through the position change. Why submit Saad to the demands of learning on the fly under the bigger microscope in Chicago?
I'm not saying that Saad isn't talented or that he isn't capable of eventually making the change to the middle. I just can't figure out why the 'Hawks are tinkering with a solid forward when there seem to be some other young options.
Time will tell if this is just a passing fancy of the front office or if Chicago continues to give Saad the inside track at center. Right now, however, this is a move that I don't feel they need to make.