Blackhawks

Brandon Saad recalls the greatness of Team North America

saad-world-cup.jpg
USA TODAY

Brandon Saad recalls the greatness of Team North America

Brandon Saad remembers the lineup looking pretty good from the start. The Blackhawks forward was considered an elder statesman on that 23-and-under Team North America but what the group lacked in experience it made up for in confidence.

“Right away when you looked at the roster and saw the speed and skill we had and we had success, whether it was exhibition or the real thing. We were a confident group right off the get-go,” Saad said. “Once we started winning games it just builds that confidence and you kind of get that swagger. We just had fun with it and we knew what we were capable of.”

The World Cup of Hockey wrapped up in Toronto last Sept. 29, with Team Canada winning another gold medal in another international competition. But it was Team North America that, despite not getting to the medal round, left the biggest impression. It’s high-skill, up-tempo style was exhilarating, not just for those who watched it but for those who were a part of that team.

“There was so much enthusiasm from the players that it made every practice, every team meeting, every game,” said former Arizona Coyotes coach Dave Tippett, who was an assistant coach for North America. “I told a lot of people that game against Sweden one of the most fun game I was ever involved in. Any time you can coach not just young players but young elite players, it just made it real enjoyable for everybody.”

It wasn’t the most structurally sound team, especially on defense – as Saad said, “it wasn’t too strenuous. We had our structure and our game plan but a lot of it was just letting us run with it and be creative offensively.” Yeah, that style probably wouldn’t work long-term for an NHL squad. But considering the talent on that team – including Saad, Connor McDavid, Jack Eichel, Johnny Gaudreau and Jonathan Drouin – it was understandable that coaches just let them rely on their strengths.

“There were a couple of parameters of how we wanted to defend,” Tippett said. “But the main thing is if we used our skill to the best capability we could and force teams on their heels and we were able to do that a lot.”

Unfortunately, the skill, speed and overall dazzling play didn’t get them far enough. North America lost to Sweden in overtime on Sept. 21, denying them a shot in the knockout stage.

“Everybody was really looking forward to getting that one game against Canada and we didn’t make it by a point or whatever,” Tippett said. “But that one game against Canada before the best of three would’ve been a pretty exciting game.”

There will be a World Cup of Hockey in 2020 but will there be a Team North America? Considering how stellar it made the competition in 2016 it would be a shame if there wasn’t. Saad wouldn’t be eligible for it the next time – he’ll be 25 in late October – but he nevertheless hopes Team North America lives again.

“It was a unique situation for a lot of young players to get a chance to play, whether they wouldn’t play on the big squad or crossing over and playing with different countries,” he said. “It’s a pretty neat experience so I think it’s a pretty cool thing to continue going forward.”

NHL Draft Profile: F Brady Tkachuk

NHL Draft Profile: F Brady Tkachuk

From June 17-21, Charlie Roumeliotis will profile two prospects per day — 10 total (five forwards, five defensemen) — leading up to the NHL Draft.​

Brady Tkachuk

Position: Forward
Height: 6-foot-3
Weight: 196 pounds
Shoots: Left

Scouting report:

"I know Tkachuk isn't a center, but Ryan Getzlaf (Anaheim Ducks) is another player who comes to mind with his combination of size, strength, skill and nastiness. Tkachuk has impressive hand skills and his upside has only begun because I think there's lots of maturity and growth to come. I've seen his speed and skating improve each of the past three years and I think he'll still get stronger and his balance will get better. His man strength will come and it'll be like, 'Oh boy, look out.'"

NHL player comparable: Matthew Tkachuk/Wayne Simmonds

Fit for Blackhawks:

If you're looking for a player that checks all the boxes in this year's draft, it's Tkachuk. And man could the Blackhawks use a player like him.

He's got offensive skill, willingly goes to the greasy areas, can provide net-front presence while playing a top-six role, and perhaps the most important part for the Blackhawks: he's very close to NHL ready. The Blackhawks will be patient with whoever they draft, but there's also some urgency to turn things around in 2018-19.

If they can draft a player like Tkachuk who can potentially jump into the lineup as early as this upcoming season, that would be ideal. Because he's the type of player that can make an impact, not just get by.

NHL Draft Profile: D Quinn Hughes

NHL Draft Profile: D Quinn Hughes

From June 17-21, Charlie Roumeliotis will profile two prospects per day — 10 total (five forwards, five defensemen) — leading up to the NHL Draft.​

Quinn Hughes

Position: Defenseman
Height: 5-foot-10
Weight: 170 pounds
Shoots: Left

Scouting report:

"He's got the puck skills, is a good skater, and is a guy with some high-end offensive talent. He wants to get right in there and play where it's hard and where you get rewarded. When he gets that puck on his stick, he wants to bury it."

NHL player comparable: Torey Krug/Kris Letang

Fit for Blackhawks:

It's no secret the Blackhawks are looking to restock their pipeline with some high-end defensemen. Henri Jokiharju and Ian Mitchell are on the way. But the former isn't a lock to be a full-time NHLer this season and the latter will continue playing in college for the 2018-19 season.

Hughes, who shined at Michigan and the IIHF World Championship with Team USA, would have the best chance of the three to crack the Blackhawks lineup first. The problem is, he likely won't be available at No. 8, so if Hughes is the guy they're locked in on, they'd need to trade up to grab him. 

If they did that, Hughes would give the Blackhawks a third blue line prospect they can get excited about. He's a left-handed shot, which evens out the balance in the system, and he would become a prime candidate to eventually replace Duncan Keith as the team's No. 1 defenseman.