U.S. World Junior Spotlight: Brandon Saad [UPDATED]

Brandon Saad -- USAHockey.com

Brandon Saad — Left Wing
Hometown: Gibsonia, Pa.  Birthdate: October 27, 1992
Height/Weight: 6’2″/206
Current Team: Saginaw Spirit (OHL)
NHL Rights: Chicago Blackhawks (2nd Rd., 43rd Overall, 2011)
National Team Experience: U.S. National Under-17 Team (2009 U17 Challenge), National Team Development Program (2009-10), U.S. Men’s National Under-18 Team (gold, 2010)

What an insane year it has been for Brandon Saad.

Right up until last year’s U.S. World Junior camp, all was normal for Saad. He was on the fast track to a first-round selection in the upcoming draft and was producing at a high rate in his first season in the OHL.

Then Saad narrowly missed the cut for Team USA. It was a bit of a surprise considering the season Saad was having up to that point, but he didn’t have a great camp and other guys emerged. You might say Saad’s roller coaster year began right there.

When he returned to the OHL after the World Junior camp, he didn’t quite look himself. Saad’s production slowed, big time. He had 55 points in the 2010-11 season for Saginaw, but only 19 came after Dec. 29.

That, in part, caused Saad to drop from a first-round lock to 43rd overall, where the Blackhawks probably scored one of the best value picks of the entire 2011 NHL Entry Draft.

Saad was then invited to the National Junior Evaluation Camp in Lake Placid. After being named to the initial roster, word came from USA Hockey that the left winger had decided not to attend. None of my sources could explain why and Saad never made his reasoning public.

However, it was a very productive summer for Saad, who went on to wow Blackhawks brass with a brilliant rookie tournament performance. He then kept that momentum going right into the pro camp. The kid looked like he belonged throughout the preseason. Saad was so impressive that the Blackhawks gave him a spot on the opening night roster.

The rookie lasted just two games before being sent back to Junior, despite positive reviews. The Hawks didn’t need Saad right then and there. While he was ready for the pro game, he could not be sent to the American Hockey League. The NHL’s agreement with the Canadian Hockey League requires the NHL team to send players under the age of 19 back to Junior if said player won’t be playing in the NHL (A rule that is anti-development in my opinion). So back to Saginaw, Saad went.

Apparently the Western Pennsylvania-native didn’t take the demotion lightly, as he came back to the OHL and proceeded to dominate. I mean, flat. out. dominate. In his third game back, Saad posted four goals and an assist. In nine games, he recorded 18 points, never once failing to get his name on the scoresheet in any of those contests.

Then on Oct. 29, Saad sustained what was called a “significant upper-body injury” in a game against the Sarnia Sting. He has yet to return to the lineup. A recent report out of Saginaw noted that Saad had yet to resume contact. It was thought he’d be available for last weekend’s games, but that was not the case.

So herein lies the problem(s).

Not knowing the circumstances of Saad’s declining the invite to the NJEC, I believe he’d still be considered for the team. However, whatever this injury may be, is a concern. Team USA’s pre-tournament camp opens in a little more than two weeks, but the camp roster is to be announced Monday at 5:30 p.m. ET live on the NHL Network.

There are a lot of questions to be asked: Will Saad be healthy? If healthy, will he be able to recapture his pre-injury dominance? Since he turned down an invite in the summer, does he even want to go? How will the other players feel if he was invited despite what happened this summer? And more.

UPDATE (12/1–1:40 p.m. CST): Kyle Austin of the Saginaw News is reporting that Brandon Saad hopes to return to game action this weekend. That could make things a little more interesting. (h/t to @HawksProspects for tweeting the link)

If the U.S. is interested and Saad is interested, inviting him is a good idea. If he is unable to recover in time for camp, there are plenty of players that could be named as a replacement. What he did prior to his injury simply won’t be ignored. He’s played at the NHL level, he’s physically ahead of the majority of his peers and he’s got that all-important international experience.

He probably deserves an invite. If he doesn’t get one, I will not be shocked, nor will I disagree with the decision. This is a very difficult situation to predict as there are so many moving parts. As good as Saad is when he’s on his game, there’s enough depth this year to make up for not having him. With so many complications to his candidacy for the team, I think it’d be understandable if Team USA decided to go in another direction.

If it were up to me, I’d bring him in and let him compete for a roster spot. He has the tools to be a contributor, and if he’s willing and able, he’s worth looking at.

We’ll find out Monday if Dean Blais and his staff feel the same way.

More notes on Saad:
– Played one season at the U.S. National Team Development Program (2009-10)
– Led the U.S. National Under-18 Team with 58 points and 29 goals
– Played for the former Mahoning Valley Phantoms in the North American Hockey League in his 16-year-old season.
– Named NAHL Rookie of the Year
– Joined the U.S. National Under-17 Team for the 2009 World U17 Challenge, helping the team to a third-place finish.
– Named to the U17 Challenge All-Tournament Team
–  Product of the Pittsburgh Hornets program
Brandon Saad’s Saginaw Player Page
Brandon Saad’s USA Hockey Bio 

Several times per week, until the U.S. National Junior Team’s pre-tournament camp roster is announced, The United States of Hockey will highlight a candidate for the team. We’ll be taking a look at players from the near locks to the dark-horse candidates to the out-of-left-field possibilities.

Previous Player Spotlights:
Emerson Etem
Jack Campbell
Jon Merrill
Bill Arnold
Kyle Rau
Brian Ferlin
Justin Faulk
Nick Bjugstad
Seth Jones

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About Chris Peters

Editor of The United States of Hockey. Contributor to CBSSports.com, USA Hockey Magazine and more. Former USA Hockey PR guy. Current Iowan.
This entry was posted in American Prospects, Junior Hockey, NHL, NHL Draft, NTDP, U.S. National Teams, USA Hockey, World Junior Championship. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to U.S. World Junior Spotlight: Brandon Saad [UPDATED]

  1. Chemmy says:

    Declining an invite to camp and playing in the OHL? Sounds like we’ve got a traitor in our midst.

  2. excellent piece chris, i assumed saad was out of the picture completely and i haven’t heard much about his injury. glad to see he’s recovering. would love to see him play in the world juniors this year.

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