Saad making an impact
Twenty-year-old rookie Brandon Saad has earned something so coveted and so unique, something that has nothing to do with a spot on the Chicago Blackhawks roster but everything to do with the respect of his teammates.
He has a nickname, the unofficial membership card into the NHL fraternity. He's in.
"Man-Child," Jonathan Toews tells NHL.com as he looks at Saad inside the Blackhawks dressing room at United Center.
"He looks like he's 35 years old but he's 20," Toews answers, smiling. "He plays like he's a lot older than he is too."
The Blackhawks' "Man-Child" -- "M-C" for short, according to second-year forward Andrew Shaw -- is quiet and extremely reserved in front of the media. But the longer the season goes, the more his personality inside the confines of the team comes out.
Saad is starting to let the Blackhawks see who he really is and what he's all about. They love it all, especially his game. He wouldn't have earned a nickname if they didn't.
"He's a very smooth guy," Shaw told NHL.com. "Everything he has done has been smooth, and you can tell by his play that he has confidence in what he does out there."
Of all the Blackhawks, Shaw (Saad's road roommate) is the most knowledgeable about the rookie's growth off the ice and Toews (Saad's center) knows the most about his development on the ice.
Neither is shy about praising the Blackhawks' "Man Child" or dishing the dirt on him.
"We watch a lot of 'Duck Dynasty' together," Shaw said, referring to the A&E reality series.
Interesting. Anything else?
"I always call him an old man," Shaw said, clearly ready to open up about Saad now.
"He's always taking his time with stuff," he continued. "He's just slow at doing everything, like an old man. He shaves every morning. He takes his time getting ready to catch the bus when we're on the road. He's always just relaxing, laying around. He'll even throw on the robe they give you in the hotel room.
"Who does that? He does. He's that kind of guy."
Any rebuttal, "M-C?"
"Shaw's just a trouble starter," Saad told NHL.com, laughing.
In what way?
"He hates when I eat the stuff out of the mini bar in the room. That's his biggest pet peeve," Shaw said. "He always says, 'Oh my God, you're going to have that? You better go down and pay for that.' It's like a two-buck chocolate bar or peanuts. That gets under his skin for some reason."
In reply, Saad said, "Most times he doesn't even like it and he gets into it just to bother me."
But according to Shaw, Saad occasionally fakes his anger.
"Sometimes he'll have a little bit of what I'm having and then he'll still complain about it," Shaw said. "I always get on his case."
Toews doesn't have to get on Saad's case, especially considering how the rookie has played during the past month. The Blackhawks' captain has seen Saad's game and confidence grow with increased ice time stemming from the amount of trust the coaching staff has in him.
Saad has 16 points on four goals and 12 assists in 32 games; he has 13 points of those in Chicago's past 14 games.
"He's physically fearless," Toews said of Saad, who is listed at 6-foot-1 and 202 pounds. "He can go in and get the puck and come out when he has two guys draped on him. It looks like he's going to fall over, but he doesn't give up and he stays on his feet to battle his way out. His confidence has been rising by the game as the season has gone along, and the skill set he already has is pretty amazing."
Saad credits Toews for much of his success -- for good reason.
Toews has assisted on three of Saad's four goals while Saad has assisted on five of the past nine goals Toews has scored. Toews had the secondary assist on Saad's first career goal; Saad's first primary assist came on a Toews goal.
They mesh well together and are even better when Marian Hossa is skating on the right side of their line. Hossa has missed five straight games with an upper-body injury.
"[Toews] is obviously a great player, but being able to play with him, he's been through it at a young age, too, so he talks me through certain plays and teaches me stuff," Saad said. "He talks about positional stuff, where we're going to be, things like that. He's been a real big help. We're both hard-working players so we gel well together. It started off pretty good but it has been getting better the more we play together."
Saad himself has been getting better the more he plays. He's also getting more comfortable the more he stays in the NHL.
He was a second-round draft pick in 2011 and Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville told NHL.com in August that he expected Saad to not just make the team this season, but to make an impact.
He has by living up to the definition of his nickname.
"It hasn't taken him long to feel like he can be one of the best at this level," Toews said