Hawks Thoughts - Top Prospect Saad Returned to OHL Team, Stalberg Practices

On Wednesday, the Chicago Blackhawks sent arguably their top organizational prospect in Brandon Saad (sorry Kyle Beach) back to his OHL team, the Saginaw Spirit. Though Saad registered no points in his two games with the Blackhawks in the early regular season, he did play well during the preseason against several division rivals, which included getting time on a line with Captain Jonathan Toews. 

To be clear, Saad's demotion to his OHL team should not be viewed as a interpretation for poor play. While Saad went scoreless for the Hawks in the home and home series against Dallas last week, he still played a pretty solid game for an 18 year old rookie, with no AHL experience. However, that doesn't automatically dub him a proven talent at the NHL level. Saad has the offensive upside to be a solid player in the NHL one day, however, that day has not come just yet.

In his inaugural season with Saginaw, Saad registered 27 goals and 55 points in 59 games. This offensive production in a player's first season in juniors is nothing to sneeze at. Granted, there are plenty of hockey players who put up just as solid totals only to find themselves in a fourth-line role in the NHL at best, but watching Saad compete during the preseason and actually put up points, not to mention a 2 point game against Washington, says something for his skillset. 

Realistically, if Saad can put up over a point per game at the OHL level next season, which is entirely plausible, we could see a solid top-six NHL forward in the making. Allowing him another year to really assert himself in juniors and up his production will be a good use of his entry-level contract. I'd like to give him one more season in juniors, then let him try his hand at the AHL in Rockford and if he makes substantial progress at each level, he'll get the final call-up very quickly.

It was great to see how Saad's play adapted to the NHL level, but it's also obvious he needs more time to develop. Some of his puck decisions were suspect, coupled with his need for more muscle when working the puck down-low, made it a tough, but eventually clear choice for Hawks' brass to send him back to juniors. However, much credit needs to be given to Chicago's scouts when considering Saad's draft number -  2nd round, 43rd overall.

But make no mistake: Blackhawks' fans will be seeing more of Brandon Saad, and I would not be surprised if it was sooner than we think.

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-On the injury front, Viktor Stalberg has returned to practice after his absence due to a leg injury. It remains to be seen whether Stalberg will actually be ready for play tomorrow night against Winnepeg, but Hawks' fans should be happy nonetheless that Stalberg has made progress in his rehab towards returning to the lineup most likely within the next week or so.

-Ray Emery is out with the flu, resulting in Alex Salak's call-up from AHL Rockford in order to backup Corey Crawford tomorrow night. Don't mistake this move as a chance for Salak to once again compete for the backup job, as Emery will return to his post once he kicks the flu and Salak will be returned to Rockford.

Hawk, Hawk, Hawk it up!

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-Matt Cefalu