CHICAGO – One of these years, Blackhawks prospect Brandon Saad might be able to relax at a cottage during the offseason.
But this summer is no time for the left winger to take a break.
“It’s pretty much full speed ahead,” Saad said Monday at the Hawks’ prospect camp. “Last year, I put in the work, but this year it’s on a whole new level. This is a huge summer for me.”
Both Saad and the Hawks could have much to gain.
After back-to-back exits in the first round of the playoffs, the Hawks have failed to add a prized free agent this summer. They pursued 30-goal scorer Zack Parise only to watch him sign a monster contract (12 years, $98 million) with the Minnesota Wild, and they were rebuffed by goaltender Martin Brodeur when he re-signed with the New Jersey Devils.
Instead, the Hawks likely will turn to Plan B: youth.
“If there’s one thing that is apparent when you look at this free-agent market in general, it’s the importance of drafting and developing your own players,” Hawks general manager Stan Bowman said after Parise and defenseman Ryan Suter signed with the Wild. “Because there’s not a lot of free agents, and you have to overpay relative to their value to get them.
“I think it really drives home the significance of drafting well and developing well and bringing [players] up through your system, and that’s been our strength.”
The Hawks’ list of homegrown talent includes Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Dave Bolland, Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook. Last year, rookies Andrew Shaw and Jimmy Hayes emerged from the minor leagues to jolt the team out of a dismal midseason slump.
Saad, who turns 20 in October, could be the next kid to contribute.
The Hawks drafted Saad in the second round (No. 43 overall) of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, and he shined during his first training camp to crack the opening day roster. He appeared in two regular-season games before the Hawks sent him to the minor leagues for more seasoning, and he returned in April for two playoff games.
This time, Saad said, he hoped to stick around for good. He dominated his competition in the minors last season with 76 points (34 goals, 42 assists) in 44 regular-season games for the Saginaw Spirit of the Ontario Hockey League.
“It’s a clean slate again,” said Saad, whose primary goal this summer is to add muscle. “I did well last year, but I’ve got to come in with the same attitude and play well.”
Even at full speed ahead, Saad said, he felt more relaxed.
“It’s definitely more comfortable,” Saad said. “It’s always easier the second time around. You know how much work it takes, and you’re ready to come prepared.”
Hawks bits: Seventeen-year-old Teuvo Teravainen, the Hawks’ first-round pick in last month’s NHL Entry draft, planned to tour the city in the next few days. Said the Finland native: “It’s a very big city. It’s so much bigger than Helsinki.” … Defenseman Jake Chelios, the 21-year-old son of Chris Chelios, participated in the prospect camp as a non-draft invitee.