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Blackhawks forward, Gibsonia native plays in Pittsburgh for 1st time

| Sunday, March 30, 2014, 10:03 p.m.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
The Blackhawks' Brandon Saad plays against the Penguins in the first period Sunday, March 30, 2014, at Consol Energy Center.

More than three years ago, in Consol Energy Center's first season, an 18-year-old named Brandon Saad sat in Section 110 and marveled at Sidney Crosby's performance during his 2010 scoring binge.

Saad, a Gibsonia native, finally faced Crosby and the Penguins on that ice surface Sunday night. Much has changed since he first stepped foot in his hometown's new arena.

At 21, Saad has won a Stanley Cup and scored 29 goals in his first 120 NHL games. Consol Energy Center was the last NHL arena in which Saad hadn't played.

He was in the starting lineup Sunday.

“I'm really excited,” Saad said before the game. “Being able to come back and play in front of family and friends is something I'm looking forward to.”

He said 40 friends and family members attended the game.

Saad has become an important player for the Blackhawks. He frequently works on all three of Chicago's top lines, kills penalties and has become a legitimate NHL goal scorer in only his second season. He played on a line with star center Jonathan Toews during most of Chicago's 2013 Stanley Cup season.

“He's become quite a hockey player in a very short period of time,” Blackhawks defenseman Brent Seabrook said.

Saad, teammates said, also quickly has become one of the most well liked players in the Blackhawks' locker room.

“He doesn't really say much,” Seabrook said with a laugh, acknowledging that Saad is one of the NHL's quietest men. “But that's OK. He'll still say something here or there to make you laugh. And the thing about him is that he's one heck of a player. He does a lot of different things that help us win.”

Saad admitted he hoped the Penguins would have drafted him in 2011.

Though he said Sunday such a scenario would have been more than acceptable, Saad isn't complaining.

He's enjoying his life in Chicago, living with his brother and playing with the defending champions.

“Who knows how it would have worked out,” Saad said of being drafted by the Penguins. “It would have been nice if it would have been here, but it worked out OK.”

Penguins coach Dan Bylsma not only bypassed Saad in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft but also opted against selecting him for 2014 U.S. Olympic team.

That doesn't mean Bylsma isn't a fan.

Earlier this season, Bylsma named Saad as one of the Americans that will represent the “future core” of American team.

“I monitored him a lot (before the Olympics),” Bylsma said. “There is a lot about his game that's impressive. I like his versatility as a player. I like the speed in which he plays the game.

“I remember watching him their last two games. It reiterated what I saw earlier in the year. He's a big guy who plays with a lot of speed, a lot of power.”

And he almost was a member of the American Olympic team.

“He was a guy who came really close,” Bylsma said.

Saad figures to get more opportunities in the future.

“Great guy, great player,” Seabrook said. “And he keeps getting better and better.”

Josh Yohe is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at jyohe@tribweb.com or via Twitter @JoshYohe_Trib.

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