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Potential of productive Kane-Shaw-Saad line sparking high hopes for Blackhawks in 2014-15
On the first day of training camp last September, Brandon Saad was centering a line with Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa — an experiment that soon was aborted.
There is little doubt where Saad will begin training camp this September — and possibly the next several Septembers if things work out as well as they did in the Western Conference final: playing left wing on a line with center Andrew Shaw and right wing Patrick Kane.
Hawks coach Joel Quenneville struck gold with that line combination in the final three games of the conference final. Saad was dominant with a goal and two assists and was a plus-4 in the Hawks’ 5-4 overtime victory in Game 5. Kane had two goals and an assist in the Hawks’ 4-3 victory in Game 6. And Saad scored off passes from Kane and Shaw to give the Hawks a 1-0 lead in Game 7.
In all, the trio combined for four goals and 15 assists in the final three games. Quenneville is rarely effusive publicly about any aspect of the Blackhawks, but his excitement over the production and possibilities of the Kane-Shaw-Saad line made it clear he saw it as a revelation.
“Hopefully what we discovered today could be a line for a long time,” Quenneville said after Game 5 at the United Center — quite a compliment for a coach who tinkers with line combinations as much as he does.
“We gelled pretty quickly there,” Saad said. “Who knows if we play a full season how well we can do. I’m hoping, but I guess we’ll see coming training camp.”
For their part, Shaw, Kane and Saad would like to keep that combination together.
“Who wouldn’t?” Shaw said Tuesday at the United Center. “They’re both great players, both easy to play with. So I look forward and I’m excited to start the season with them next year.”
Kane has excelled with just about every center he’s played with since joining the Hawks. Shaw’s gritty game also is pretty universal. It’s the 21-year-old Saad who sparks the anticipation of a roster upgrade from within. Saad scored six goals and 16 points and was a team-high plus-10 in the postseason (no other Hawks forward was better than plus-5 in the playoffs). Saad scored 19 goals and 47 points with a plus-20 in the regular season.
“It’s fun to see some of those guys grow up right in front of your eyes — whether it’s over a playoff series or a whole season, but he was impressive,” Kane said. “I thought maybe one of the most dominant games I’ve ever seen was Game 5 here when Handzus scored in overtime and [Saad] was all over the puck that night.
“He just made it really easy for myself as a linemate to make plays and get the puck. Made a lot of great plays in that game. He’s a special player, still very young obviously and he’s just going to keep getting better and better.”
That remains to be seen, but the outlook is good. Saad doesn’t turn 22 until Oct. 27.
“Even though it wasn’t the year we wanted, I think I came a long way,” Saad said. “I’m happy with how I ended playing. Unfortunately we didn’t make it the whole way, but I’m looking forward to getting it going next year.”
At 6-1, 200 pounds, Saad’s size and skill and playing style — particularly his ability to be strong with the puck — are similar to teammate Marian Hossa, one of the best two-way forwards in the NHL. Hossa has noticed the resemblance.
“Watch out for him,” Hossa said. “That guy has so much potential. He’s proving that. This series [the Western Conference final], he was one of our best players. He’s got a real bright future. He’s an unreal hockey player.”
Saad will enter the 2014-15 season — his third full season with the Hawks — with high expectations but also a lot of momentum after his impressive 2014 postseason.
“We like the ability of him in tight puck areas to have kind of an explosion in a way where he can get some separation of coverage,” Quenneville said. “He’s dangerous with the puck, play recognition [is] high end. Maybe he found the perfect line mate in Patrick Kane. His consistency this year was something that going into this third year, the upside is huge.”