Blackhawks

Saad the latest surprise youngster for Hawks

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Saad the latest surprise youngster for Hawks

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Brandon Saad stood in front of the biggest media throng he's seen since he got to Chicago on Tuesday afternoon. The 18-year-old was grinning from ear to ear after the Blackhawks signed him to a three-year entry-level deal, the words "awesome," "exciting" and "unbelievable" dominating his answers.

Yes, the kid is signed. And the kid, at least for now, is staying. Because the kid has earned it.

Saad's hard work has gotten him to this point, so the Blackhawks signed him to his deal which, according to capgeek.com, has an annual cap hit of 795,000. The Blackhawks have recognized the youngster's talent since his rookie camp debut this summer, and general manager Stan Bowman said it's evident that Saad can play at this level.

"The competition has gone up each time and he's responded to the challenge. He's earned a spot," Bowman said in announcing Saad's deal. "He's excited to go and that's a good story for us. We put him in a position to succeed and he seized it."

Now Saad being a good player isn't a shock; he was pegged to be a first-round selection at the 2011 NHL Entry Draft. But he didn't make the U.S. world junior team and a groin injury hampered him some last season with the Saginaw Spirit, and his stock dropped.

So he went in the second round instead. Fine. The Blackhawks took him, he took advantage of his training-camp audition and here he is: a teen-ager who will be on the top line with Jonathan Toews and Patrick Sharp in Dallas on Friday night. And if Saad used that second-round fall as motivation, it apparently worked.

"I fell in the draft, yeah, but it wasn't my decision," Saad said. "No matter what would've happened you have something to prove. It's a fresh start."

It's probably a lot fresher than he anticipated at this point of his young career. The Blackhawks have had a few young surprises out of recent camps -- defenseman Nick Leddy was last year's at age 19 -- and Saad's story gets added to that lore.

"There's always a guy every year who jumps ahead higher than expected. We've seen it here," Bowman said. "His talent is there. We're the beneficiaries of that. He's 18 years old and plays a pro game already. He's got great years ahead of him."

So how long will Saad stay with the Blackhawks this season? It depends. Saad could play a few games -- up to nine -- with the Blackhawks and then could be headed back to Saginaw. But if he makes a big impact it's going to be hard for the Blackhawks to send him packing.

That will all play itself out. Whether he's here for a few games or for the season, Saad is going to enjoy it.

After all, he's earned it.

"It's sinking in, yeah, a little bit," Saad said. "But I'm still just loving being here. It's going to be awesome."

Tracey Myers is CSNChicago.com's Blackhawks Insider. Follow Tracey on Twitter @TramyersCSN for up-to-the-minute Hawks information.

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks visit Niklas Hjalmarsson, Coyotes

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Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks visit Niklas Hjalmarsson, Coyotes

Here are Three Things to Watch when the Blackhawks take on the Arizona Coyotes Saturday night on NBC Sports Chicago and streaming live on the NBC Sports app. Coverage begins at 7:30 p.m. with Blackhawks Pregame Live.

1. Niklas Hjalmarsson's new home.

Brace yourselves, Chicago. It's going to be a weird site seeing Hjalmarsson in a different sweater other than the Blackhawks, where he spent his first 10 NHL seasons and won three Stanley Cups.

Now he serves as an alternate captain and blue-line anchor for the Coyotes, who are the only team still seeking its first win of the season. You know they'll be hungry to snap that skid, especially when there's extra motivation for a player on their team facing a bunch of old friends.

2. Connor Murphy returns to Arizona, too.

The man Hjalmarsson was traded for will also be returning to a place he called home for four years. Murphy's role with the Coyotes increased every year before he was dealt to the Blackhawks as part of a shake-up for both teams, so you know he's going to play with something to prove.

Murphy is a physical defenseman, and has laid several notable big hits this season. His former teammates surely know it, and may want to keep their heads up.

3. Patrick Kane 2.0?

Ever since he was drafted with the No. 7 overall pick in 2016, Clayton Keller has drawn comparisons to Kane. They're both undersized, offensive playmakers, possess supreme stick-handling abilities and are American-born players.

Keller got a brief taste of NHL action last year, but he's secured a full-time spot with the Coyotes this season and has been arguably their best player so far.

The 19-year-old forward paces all rookies with five goals and ranks second with seven points, and leads the Coyotes in both categories. Expect to see his name as a finalist for the Calder Trophy for the league's top rookie at the end of the season.

Anton Forsberg is giving the Blackhawks exactly what they need

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USA TODAY

Anton Forsberg is giving the Blackhawks exactly what they need

Anton Forsberg had just finished an extended morning skate Wednesday morning in St. Louis. The backup goaltender had played in one regular-season game for the Blackhawks to that point, so getting in extra work to stay sharp was helpful.

“I try to keep my focus in practice and work extra every day, get a few extra shots in practice with the extra guys who are out there, work with Jimmy and try to keep my game shape,” Forsberg said, referring to Blackhawks goaltending coach Jimmy Waite.

Whatever Forsberg’s working on in practice and skates seems to be working, because in two games with the Blackhawks he’s looked sharp. Forsberg probably deserved a victory on Thursday night when he stopped 40 shots in the Blackhawks’ 2-1 overtime loss to the Edmonton Oilers. It’s the backup life to wait and see when that next start will come, but Forsberg has been ready.

“For sure I felt more comfortable today, more used to the speed,” he said following Thursday’s game. “I felt I read the game better, felt I had more time moving around. It’s tough, again, to lose in overtime. Obviously I wanted to win and it’s frustrating.”

Frustrating for sure, but Forsberg is giving the Blackhawks exactly what they want and need: a dependable backup that gives them a chance to win. The two goals Forsberg gave up on Thursday weren’t softies, either — Patrick Maroon’s goal off a ridiculous Connor McDavid pass and Mark Letestu’s over game-winner that deflected off Brent Seabrook’s stick.

“He kept us in a tight game like he did in Toronto, got us to overtime. I kind of feel bad we didn’t get him a win in either of those,” Ryan Hartman said. “He played well both of those games. It’s nice to have a guy on the back end like that.”

Forsberg has blended in well with the Blackhawks. It helps that he already knew two of them, Brandon Saad and Artem Anisimov, his former teammates in Columbus. He and Corey Crawford already have a good rapport. Same goes for he and Waite, and Forsberg has soaked up any information they’ve given him.

“I feel like both him and Corey teach me a lot. We talk about different situations, especially all the reads,” Forsberg said. “I get to know how (Crawford) thinks the game. He’s been around a long time and has been doing well, so it’s interesting every day to hear what he has to say. Even Jimmy’s been around same thing there, discussing my game, what we want to improve, what we want to do different, what to keep the same and go from there.”

The extra work in practices and skates appears to be working as Forsberg has done a lot right in just his first two games, which were 10 days apart. The Blackhawks have had a good run of backup goaltenders; two games is a small sample size but Forsberg could be the latest reliable backup.