It's not about Brandon Saad's long-term potential.
That's not a subject that is even up for debate. While he may not be at the level of Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Duncan Keith, it is all trending in the right direction for the 21-year-old forward from Pittsburgh.
However, with the Olympic break at hand, it's time to plot out exactly what Saad means to the Blackhawks for the rest of the season. This is a team that has designs on winning its third Stanley Cup in five seasons and its second in a row.
Saad was a solid contributor as a rookie in last year's memorable run to the Stanley Cup and picked up some support for the Calder Trophy. He scored 10 goals and 17 assists last year and ripped home the Blackhawks' first goal of the Stanley Cup Final against the Boston Bruins in Game 1 of that series.
However, Saad was not one of the main contributors. That's not a criticism, that's just a fact. How could he be on a team that had Toews, Kane, Keith, Marian Hossa, Patrick Sharp and Brent Seabrook?
The Blackhawks still have that core group of superstars on head coach Joel Quenneville's roster, but Saad is no longer just the rookie going along for the ride. He has taken on a vital role, as he has posted 18 goals and 22 assists in 59 games while playing left wing on the team's second line throughout the majority of the season.
Saad is versatile. He can play right wing and shoot from his off-side, causing big problems for opposing goalies. While it's not his favored position, he can also play at center and handle himself in the faceoff circle if that's what Quenneville asks of him.
He is a core player, the kind that Quenneville doesn't hesitate to put on the ice when the Blackhawks are up by a goal in the third period, down by a goal or tied with the opposition.
Saad is a young player who will still make occasional mistakes, but he is not making the game-changing errors that cause coaches to put players on the bench.
Quenneville is not surprised by any of Saad's development. Prior to last season, Quenneville had liked what had been written about Saad by the team's scouts and liked what he had seen of him on tape and in person.
“He looks like he’s ready to play,” Quenneville told CSNChicago.com's Tracey Myers (h/t Pro Hockey Talk). “He can maybe not just make our team, he can do more than that.”
Saad has made steady progress and is the kind of forward who can play with the best players on the team. The Blackhawks have so many stars that he may not be a traditional top-six forward, but he can make the big play at the key moment.
Saad's big breakthrough is likely to come as a scorer. He is finding the net on 16.8 percent of his shots, a considerable improvement from the respectable 10.2 percent he scored on as a rookie.
Saad has quick hands that allow him to get the puck up high into areas of the net that are uncovered by goaltenders.
It will be difficult for opponents to game-plan for Saad after the Olympic break and into the postseason. However, they may have to because he is a young player who has come into his own and is on the verge of stardom.
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