By Adam Hoge-
UNITED CENTER (CBS) All season long the Blackhawks have been lauded for their depth.
But that depth was definitely not a given when the season began.
Just go back to the season opener in Los Angeles when Daniel Carcillo started on the top line. He got hurt in that game and immediately the depth was tested.
Enter 20-year-old Brandon Saad, who didn’t even dress against the Kings in the season-opener. Saad got his feet wet with the Blackhawks last season and even played in two playoff games, but he spent most of the year in the juniors and spent the lockout playing with the Rockford IceHogs in the AHL.
There was optimism that Saad could contribute this year, but it would have been a stretch to think he would be the key to the Blackhawks rolling four lines deep.
“I think we all felt he was capable of being a top player, but I think his start to the season (in Rockford) this year was just OK,” head coach Joel Quenneville said. “I think when he got up here he took it to the next level and looks comfortable.”
Saad was thrown onto the top line with Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa, and while it took a while for the points to start to accumulate, it was obvious he was playing well.
“I think from the start I was always pretty confident, but I think just being able to play — I wasn’t having a whole lot production the first couple games, but I was playing well,” Saad said Tuesday. “I stuck with the program and worked hard. I think once I started getting those points, and the production helped with the team, I think that helped (with the confidence).”
Saad now ranks third among NHL rookies with 27 points and is fourth on the Blackhawks with 10 goals. He is very much a core of the Blackhawks now and will even join Patrick Kane by sporting a playoff mullet this year. The two went to the barber together Monday.
“Playing with a couple top guys, he doesn’t look or feel out of place with them, which is a big step as well,” Quenneville said. “I don’t want to say I’m surprised, but we like the progress.”
Now comes the real test, as Saad will play in his third career playoff game Tuesday night against the Wild — this time with much higher expectations.
“I was much more nervous last year with it being my first time,” he said. “Being able to play a full season, I’m much more comfortable and just looking forward to getting it going.”
– Winger Jason Pominville will not play tonight for the Wild. He missed the last two games of the regular season with a head injury, but head coach Mike Yeo was hoping for a return tonight. Pominville is third on the team in points (34) and second in goals (14), although most of those numbers were tallied when he was with the Buffalo Sabres. He has four goals and five assists in 10 games since joining the Wild at the trade deadline.
– Joel Quenneville said he thinks goaltender Ray Emery (lower body) could be able to travel to Minnesota for Games 3 and 4. If not, Henrik Karlsson will make the trip.
For more Blackhawks coverage throughout the playoffs, follow Adam on Twitter at @AdamHoge.