As soon as Dave Bolland was traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs following the Chicago Blackhawks’ Stanley Cup win, it looked like his second line center position was already filled. Now, just three days into training camp, another familiar name has entered the picture, and a battle for the pivot position has ensued.
Brandon Saad was a huge addition to the Blackhawks in 2013, making an impact ever since he was added to the lineup before game #2 of the regular season. Playing alongside Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa, Saad showed maturity far beyond his 20 years. His defensive game was extremely impressive, and with 27 points in 48 games, as well as a plus-minus of +17, he was nominated for the Calder Trophy as the league’s top rookie.
While the Blackhawks were dominating the NHL, Brandon Pirri was doing the same down on the farm, leading the Rockford IceHogs, and the entire AHL in points, with 75 points in 76 games. The 2009 second round draft-pick was making a name for himself, and a spot on the Blackhawks’ roster in 2013-14 was all but certain for the 22-year old.
It came about at the 2013 Blackhawks Convention that Joel Quenneville and the rest of the coaching staff wanted to give Saad a chance in the middle. Much to the confusion of fans, they stayed true to their word, and he was seen in between Marian Hossa and Patrick Sharp during drills and scrimmages in the last 2 days.
The Blackhawks’ seem to have started heading on the same road they did in 2011, where while trying to defend their first Stanley Cup in 49 years, poor line management lead to less chemistry, and limited success.
Saad is only entering his sophomore campaign, and with fine-tuning and all-around development, he could be one of the league’s best on the wing. Throwing him in a new position will definitely affect him, and his improvement as a power forward in place of face off mechanics or so on.
Even more alarming is that Saad is currently in Pirri’s place. Pirri has all the marks of a top six NHL forward, with speed, hands, and vision required to make plays.
If Saad was to play center, he would most likely start off the season on the third like, bumping up Andrew Shaw to a top-six position that doesn’t suit his gritty style. Saad’s strong skating and nose for the net are more suited for the wing, along with a deadly shot off the rush.
There is also a third piece to the puzzle; St. Cloud State standout, and Blackhawks prospect, Drew Leblanc. Although Leblanc is expected to play in Rockford this season, Saad’s move to center may close a door for the youngster before he even gets a shot in the NHL.
You don’t have to be an expert to make the call here; let Pirri do what he does best, and become the Blackhawks’ second line center. Forcing Saad into this position will cause a lot of mayhem in the short term, and could put the Blackhawks’ offense into a hole they might never get out of in 2013-14.
For more Blackhawks conversation, “Like” us on Facebook: Blackhawk Up, and follow us on Twitter: @Blackhawk_Up. Check back each weekday for a new summer daily special!