After what Joel Quenneville called an “abnormal year,” the Blackhawks coach believes this season “could be huge” for left wing Brandon Saad.
And Saad seems optimistic, too.
After back-to-back 53-point seasons with the Columbus Blue Jackets, last season didn’t go as planned for Saad, who the Hawks traded for during the 2017 offseason.
Heading into the 2017-18 campaign, Saad was looking for another strong performance. Instead, he ended up having arguably his worst one in his NHL career.
And it wasn’t because the opportunities for Saad to succeed weren’t there. He just seemingly couldn’t find the back of the net.
“With Saader, the finish is certainly the quality of the quantity that he had,” Quenneville said Sunday.
Saad posted 35 points, including 18 goals, in 82 games and had career-low shooting percentage of 7.6, which was the 19th-worst in the league last season out of players who took at least 200 shots on goal.
Bad puck luck?
“Yeah, that’s part of it,” he said.
But Saad, a two-time Stanley Cup winner, doesn’t put the blame solely on chance.
“I always say, ‘You create your own luck,’” he said. “It’s just baring down and getting back to the basics and improving what you need to improve on.
“The big thing is leaving [last season] in the back, moving forward and thinking about the present and the future … Not too much thinking about anything negative and staying positive moving forward and getting better where I need to improve.”
Saad spent the bulk of his summer in Chicago working with the Hawks’ strength and conditioning coach, Paul Goodman. For the first offseason ever, Saad, who turns 26 next month, focused more on skill development than anything else.
“I think it was just a bit of an eye opener with edge work and puck skill,” Saad said. “Majority of summers, it would just be practices and conditioning. So this summer [I focused on] working more skills with keeping your head up, making plays with the puck and using edge work to skate out of corners and things like that.”
Since training camp began on Friday, one of the Hawks most exciting line features Saad, center Nick Schmaltz and right wing Patrick Kane. Quenneville previously said this trio is “as exciting as any line may be in the league.”
And Saad agrees with Quenneville. With two practices and one scrimmage under his belt, Saad said he’s enjoyed playing with Schmaltz and Kane.
“It’s going to be fun,” Saad said Sunday. “Even the few days we’ve had, it’s been fun with the amount of skill and speed they bring to the line … Those two are outstanding players so to be paired with them is definitely exciting.”
Fans will have to wait and see whether the Saad-Schmaltz-Kane line sticks or not by the time the season rolls around next month. But regardless, Quenneville believes Saad will play an important role for the Hawks this season.
“His overall game, if he elevates it just a little bit, I mean he could add so much to our team and to his line,” Quenneville said. “Right now he’s on a line with two really good players, so right now the upside for him [is] this year could be huge.”
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