The Chicago Blackhawks made waves when they announced earlier this summer that they would give Brandon Saad a run at center in training camp and during the preseason. Given the presence of a guy like Brandon Pirri, it was a bit surprising to hear that they’d give Saad, who had so much success on the wing last year, a shot to crack the lineup in the middle.
The purpose was undoubtedly to create competition for Pirri. Vying for that role as a second line center, there isn’t a whole lot of competition to go around. Perhaps Marcus Kruger could generate a bit of it, but he’s much better served in a defense role. Which means it could come down to the likes of Pirri and Saad for the spot.
While many questioned transitioning Saad from the wing into the middle, there’s no doubt that he has the skill set to succeed there. Putting a player, regardless of his skill level, between Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa on the second unit already sets one off in the right direction.
But with the skills that Saad brings to the mix, he definitely has a chance to succeed as a center. He’s a big body in the middle and he’s skilled enough with the puck to distribute. We know that he’s not afraid to play down around the net as well. With the two veterans on either side, there shouldn’t be an issue from an offensive standpoint.
Saad himself has already admitted that it’s a matter of play recognition. Looking for the play is different in the middle than out on the wing, obviously. There’s also the matter of faceoffs, and his play in the defensive zone. We know that Saad can play at both ends of the ice, it’s just a matter of playing defense in the middle of the ice, rather than along the boards.
If Saad can show improvement as the preseason wears on, at the very least he’s a contingency in the event that Pirri struggles or someone is injured. It’ll be interesting to see how he makes the transition as the Blackhawks approach actual game action, but there’s little doubt that the skill set of Saad should put him in a position to succeed in the middle.