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Stock of Pittsburgh native Saad on rise

| Wednesday, June 20, 2012, 12:30 a.m.
ASSOCIATED PRESS
Chicago Blackhawks' Brandon Saad (43) passes the puck against the Phoenix Coyotes during the first period of Game 4 of an NHL hockey Stanley Cup first-round playoff series in Chicago on Thursday, April 19, 2012. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)
ASSOCIATED PRESS
Chicago Blackhawks' Brandon Saad (43) controls the puck against Phoenix Coyotes' Mikkel Boedker (89) during the first period of Game 4 of an NHL hockey Stanley Cup first-round playoff series in Chicago on Thursday, April 19, 2012. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

One year later, the biggest name of the Big Four is asserting himself again.

Brandon Saad watched while two other local products were surprisingly selected before him in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, then promptly made his NHL debut only four months later. Still, Saad isn't satisfied.

“I'm not there yet,” Saad said. “I'm not where I want to be. Not even close, honestly.”

Saad used a spectacular training camp and some serious chemistry with star center Jonathan Toews to claim a spot on Chicago's opening night roster at age 18. He played in Chicago for a couple of games before being returned to Saginaw, where he promptly lit up the Ontario Hockey League with 76 points in 44 games.

Hardly boastful, Saad admitted something this June that he let slide a year ago.

Indeed, there was a chip on his shoulder.

“It did motivate me,” he said, referring to his surprising dip to the second round.

Two of his friends from Pittsburgh — forward J.T. Miller and goalie John Gibson — were drafted ahead of Saad. Vincent Trocheck went in the third round.

Only one year earlier, Saad had been projected as a top-five pick in the 2011 draft. He hardly disappointed during the 2010-11 season — Saad produced a point per game in Saginaw despite playing much of the season with a bad groin — yet found himself sliding to the middle of the first round in most mock drafts at this point last year.

And then, Saad was forced to wait until midway through the second round before the Blackhawks called his name. Arguably the best prospect to ever come from Western Pennsylvania had to watch two other players from his region get selected before his name was called.

“I'd be lying if I said it didn't do that (put a chip on his shoulder),” Saad said. “But, when you're slipping a little bit like I did, you realize you have work to do. It was disappointing, but I was still happy to be drafted. And then I went to work.”

Did he ever.

Despite being drafted by an organization with a number of gifted forwards, Saad made the opening night roster.

Then, after the organization decided to let his game mature in Saginaw, an injury to star forward Marian Hossa in the postseason necessitated a lineup change.

Enter Saad, who didn't score a goal in the playoffs against Phoenix. He never looked out of place, either.

“It was so exciting to be a part of that atmosphere,” Saad said. “But, to be honest, I didn't feel uncomfortable, even in the playoff games. I actually felt comfortable out there. It was awesome, a real dream come true.”

Gibson is poised to become Anaheim's future goaltender. In his first OHL season, he thrived for Kitchener, producing eye-popping totals. He went 21-10 with a 2.75 GAA and a .928 save percentage.

“I'm always keeping track of what he's up to,” Saad said.

Keeping track of Saad could be pretty interesting later this year.

He wants to make the NHL for good this fall.

“It's the plan,” he said. “Last year, it was a long shot, but my attitude then was that I wanted to make the team. It's tough because it's a great team in Chicago. But I'm going to try.”

Josh Yohe is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at jyohe@tribweb.com or 412-664-9161, Ext. 1975.

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