Local prospect flashes Crosby-esque skills
ERIE -- It has always been assumed that the Sidney Crosby era would generate a boom in local hockey and subsequently produce NHL prospects.
What wasn't expected was that the finest prospect to ever come from Pittsburgh would be so much like Crosby himself.
Brandon Saad, a Gibsonia native projected to be selected in the top five of the 2011 NHL entry draft, won't turn 18 until Oct. 27 but already showcases the kind of maturity and modesty that has become synonymous with Crosby.
"He's the most humble guy on our team," goalie Mavric Parks of the Saginaw team of the Ontario Hockey League said. "No ego at all, the kind of guy everyone likes. And it's a pretty amazing thing because we all know how good he is."
Just how good is Saad•
Nearly every hockey draft publication forecasts that Saad will be among the first five players selected in next summer's draft. Saad can play center or wing and was a force in all three zones against the Erie Otters on Saturday -- clearly the game's finest player. He scored his first OHL goal and added an assist in his team's 3-2 win.
"Getting that first goal out of the way was nice," said Saad, whose arrival has spurred ticket sales in Saginaw.
"But more than anything, it's just good that we won the game. That's what I'm all about."
Saad's off-ice demeanor is quiet, and so is his game -- to a point.
"He's isn't flashy," Parks said. "He's just good. He's smarter than everyone on the ice. He just has that hockey sense that not too many players have."
Saad's value to Saginaw, to say nothing of his overall effectiveness, was on display against the Otters. He quarterbacks his squad's power play, is on the top penalty-killing unit and isn't afraid to get his nose dirty, receiving a 10-minute misconduct in the first period at Erie.
Most dynamic offensive players Saad's age are less developed defensively, but that aspect of his game comes naturally.
"I don't really know that I need to work on any one part of my game," he said. "I just want to keep working hard every day. That's what it takes to be successful, and I work very hard."
Saad's physical tools are only exceeded by the modestly he displays when speaking of them. Like Crosby, the 17-year-old loves to work the right side of the ice, especially on power plays. He has uncommon vision.
"It's amazing the stuff he can do, and just how good he is," Parks said. "He does it all."
Saad's first OHL goal, which came in his second game, nearly replicated Crosby's first NHL goal Oct. 8, 2005, against Boston. While on an early power play, Saad showed his game has sandpaper to go with skill.
During a scrum in front of the net, Saad took a hit and ultimately found the loose puck and blasted it home.
"Not a bad start," he said. "I'm still getting used to the league and getting used to Saginaw. But I like it. Everything is good right now."
After the victory over the Otters, Saad walked into the chilly evening and walked toward the team bus. While the rest of his teammates walked largely unmolested, a group of autograph seekers chased down Saad.
It wasn't the first autograph the prospect has signed, but it still feels that way.
"I'm still getting used to this," he said with a smile. "Pretty crazy, huh?"
Pretty familiar, actually.Additional Information:
List of Pittsburgh-born players drafted by the NHL:
Year -- Player ------ Round -- Team
2006 -- Mike Weber -- Second -- Phoenix
2004 -- Grant Lewis -- Second -- Atlanta
2003 -- R.J. Umberger -- First -- Columbus
2003 -- Dylan Reese -- SeventhvN.Y. Rangers
2002 -- Nate Guenin -- Fourth -- N.Y. Rangers
2002 -- John Zieler -- Fifth -- Phoenix
1999 -- Ryan Malone -- Fourth -- Penguins
1999 -- George Parros -- Eighth -- Los Angeles