Brandon Pirri is a rookie with a hot hand for the Chicago Blackhawks.
The Chicago Blackhawks got an impressive rookie campaign from Andrew Shaw in 2011-12. The following season, Brandon Saad helped the 'Hawks hoist the Stanley Cup in his rookie year.
This year's model is center Brandon Pirri.
Finally getting his chance to prove himself on the second line, Pirri has responded with six goals and five assists in 16 games with Chicago. Since the 'Hawks recalled Pirri from Rockford Oct. 11, he has made his way up the depth chart and has shown that he can score in the NHL game.
Pirri lacks the power game of Saad, and Pirri's defensive issues have been frequently pointed out by his detractors. Sometimes Pirri's speed is called into question. As a result, what Pirri does well on the ice can be overlooked.
By way of comparison, here are the numbers of Shaw, Saad and Pirri after 16 appearances in the season that they stuck with the club:
Shaw (2011-12): Five goals, three assists, minus-four.
Saad (2012-13): Three goals, plus-two.
Pirri (2013-14): Six goals, five assists, plus-six.
Pirri's NHL start has easily been on par with Shaw and Saad. With some breathing room, he has been able to provide offense, something he struggled with in spot duty over the last two seasons.
Last year's AHL scoring champion in Rockford is proving that he can light the lamp at the next level. More impressive is the fact that he also seems to be clicking with Patrick Kane.
Joel Quenneville seems to be warming up to the 22-year-old center as well. Though Pirri played just under 12 minutes Thursday against Phoenix, he tied the game in the third period by redirecting a shot by Brent Seabrook.
With the score still knotted after three rounds of the shootout that followed, out came Pirri to take Chicago's next shot. His attempt snaked under Mike Smith's right pad for what was the deciding shot of the contest.
Saturday in a disappointing loss to Nashville, Pirri was one of the bright spots in his longest outing of the season. Playing 17:22, he was a plus-two on a night that his team surrendered seven goals. His third period tally cut the Predator lead to two goals before former 'Hawks forward Viktor Stalberg put the game away a few seconds later.
Sunday, Pirri followed up Kane's shot on Antti Niemi and banged home the first goal of the night in Chicago's 5-1 victory over San Jose. Pirri also had a secondary assist, setting up Saad's drive to the net that resulted in Kris Versteeg's third-period goal.
On a night that Sharks forward Tomas Hertl was in the house, it was Pirri who was the more impressive rookie on the ice. Not only was Hertl scoreless, he didn't manage a shot on the evening and was a minus-two. Pirri played well enough to be named the game's second star.
Pirri is now seventh among rookies in scoring with his 11 points despite lacking the appearances of the players ahead of him on the list. He has a game points streak dating back to Nov. 10 against Edmonton.
With Michal Handzus currently on Long Term Injured Reserve, Pirri should receive steady top-six minutes. If Pirri maintains his play, Handzus may find it difficult to tear Pirri away from the second line.