Chicago Blackhawks forward Brandon Saad started last season hoping to make the team. By the end of his rookie season, he was the owner of an awesome playoff beard and a Stanley Cup, as well as a Calder Trophy nomination.
Two games into the 2013-14 campaign, Saad is in anything but a sophomore slump.
Playing on the 'Hawks' third line, Saad has gotten off to a great start. He has notched goals in each of Chicago's first two contests and also has a pair of assists. He was voted the first star of the Blackhawks' opening-night win against the Washington Capitals.
Saad was the second star of the game Saturday night despite his team dropping a 3-2 shootout decision to the Tampa Bay Lightning. The 'Hawks' third line has been taking it to opponents, with Saad dominating play on seemingly every shift.
"Having some success last year, I wanted to come into this year more confident, more comfortable," Saad told reporters after practice Monday on Blackhawks TV via the team website. "Continue that success and build on it."
To do that, Saad will be skating in a bottom six role after getting top line minutes for a good portion of the 2012-13 season. Skating with some new line mates hasn't had much effect on Saad's ability to contribute.
Saad skated with Shaw quite a bit in the latter stages of last season. He has experience, albiet in Rockford, with Ben Smith and Jimmy Hayes, both of whom have appeared on the third line for Chicago this season.
Skating against the opposition's lower lines, Saad and company have been an aggressive bunch. Saad's tally Saturday night came after a very fortunate carom off of Niklas Hjalmarsson's ring-around attempt in the second period. Still, Saad got to the net and took advantage of the opportunity.
"My big game plan is keeping it simple with the puck, getting shots on net and crashing for rebounds," Saad explained.
It's working so far. After an abbreviated run at the center position when training camp opened, Saad has been in his natural position and picking up where he left off from his rookie season.
Saad was tied for fifth on the 2012-13 'Hawks with Duncan Keith with 27 points (10 goals, 17 assists) in 46 games. Only Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Marian Hossa had more goals than Saad for Chicago.
Much of his first season was spent with Toews and Hossa, who both can boost a teammate's offensive numbers. However, Saad seems to be ready to take his game up another level and start growing into the power forward he has the potential to be.
He won't be the recipient of as many quality passes. Still, he should be able to generate more scoring chances with his line's aggressiveness.
The season is in it's infancy, but it's nice to see that Saad has returned with such a strong start. After beginning his career with a lot of success, Saad appears hungry for more.