Over the course of the last several years, good luck finding a team that has done a better job at drafting and developing young talent than the Chicago Blackhawks. Their ability to do so was a top explanation as to how they were able to take home a second Stanley Cup title within four seasons after unloading a large portion of their roster after the 2009-10 season. There's also a heavy amount of luck involved. We saw it when Teuvo Teravainen fell into their lap. That was preceded when they nabbed Brandon Saad in the second round, 43rd overall, back in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft.
Saad burst onto the scene with the Hawks after lighting up the OHL with the Saginaw Spirit, playing in 46 games during the 2013 season, his first full campaign at the NHL level. He performed well, logging 27 points in those games, including 10 goals. He followed that up with a relatively quiet Stanley Cup Playoffs, with just six points during the postseason, despite the massive success the Hawks had that playoff year. Nonetheless, he set himself up for large expectations going into his first 82-game campaign with the Blackhawks.
And last year, he certainly lived up to expectations. His game continued to show rapid development, as he appeared in 76 games with the Blackhawks, recording 47 points in those games. Nineteen of those points came from putting the puck in the net, while he finished with a plus-20 rating. He spent the majority of the time playing with Andrew Shaw and Patrick Kane. This year, he's expected to continue to log time with Kane, though it'll be Brad Richards in the middle to start, which could mean an uptick in statistical output for Saad.
One of the popular comparisons that Brandon Saad tends to draw when his skill set and upside are being discussed is that of a young Marian Hossa. Primarily due to his two-way ability, nearly every comparison that is made between Saad and the future Hall of Famer can be looked at as absolutely warranted.
We've seen Saad flash the defensive ability on a nightly basis the last couple of years. His Corsi was fourth on the team among forwards, trailing only Jonathan Toews, Patrick Sharp, and Hossa in that category. He had 50 takeaways during the regular season, which was behind Hossa, who was all the way up at 75 on the year, and Toews, who beat him out by just one. So while we cannot say that Saad is right up at Hossa's level yet, obviously, he's heading in that direction and has demonstrated a lot of what has made Marian Hossa one of the very best players in the game.
What's next for Saad is simply to take that next step and continue to elevate his game. Offensively, there's plenty of ability, as we've seen. If the trio of Saad, Richards, and Patrick Kane continue to demonstrate chemistry, we could see him approach 25-30 goals easy this season. But where Brandon Saad is perhaps most effective is on that defensive end, where he continually draws comparisons to one of the best defensive forwards in the game. The product on the ice, in addition to his defensive stats and strong possession numbers, certainly indicate that every bit of that is very, very close to the truth.
As Marian Hossa continues to get up there in age, even while continuing to play at a high level, Blackhawks fans can take solace in the fact that his presence will continue to remain intact through Saad, even after he hangs up the skates. Saad's growing offensive game, in conjunction with the already strong defensive element, makes him the total package. If it wasn't already evident, this should be the year we see Saad reach that next level.
Randy Holt is a staff writer for Second City Hockey. You can follow him on Twitter @RandallPnkFloyd.