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Brandon Saad winging it at center for Blackhawks

Updated: October 15, 2013 7:18AM



SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Coach Joel Quenneville talked about how versatile Brandon Saad was, about how he spent some years early in his junior career as a center and how that experience should help him make the transition from left wing this season.

Then it was pointed out that Saad had just said he’d never played center in his life. Not even as a kid.

“He’s never played center?” Quenneville asked before smirking. “Well, he goes all over the ice, anyway.”

No, Saad’s move to second-line center for the Blackhawks was not part of some grand plan, not some calculated and carefully thought-out move. It’s more of a hunch. An experiment, even. After all, on a championship team with loads of returning talent and few holes to fill, you can afford to try some things during training camp.

So there was Saad during the first day of camp Thursday, skating down the middle of the ice flanked by Patrick Sharp on the left and Marian Hossa on the right.

“We’ll see how it plays itself out, but it could happen,” Quenneville said. “I thought he looked pretty good in the middle. That line looks like it could be a dangerous line.”

Saad, 20, admitted to being surprised by the position switch, but being thrown into the fire is nothing new for him. After Daniel Carcillo’s knee injury on opening day last season, Saad suddenly was thrust into a starring role on the Hawks’ top line. He instantly clicked with Jonathan Toews and Hossa, had 10 goals and 17 assists with a plus-17 rating and was a finalist for the Calder Trophy as the league’s top rookie.

So it’s just another shift on the fly for the 6-1, 202-pounder from the Pittsburgh suburbs.

“I guess there’s some similarities there with throwing me into a new position,” Saad said. “But I’m prepared for it, I’m ready to go and I’m looking forward to the challenge.”

Saad doesn’t have the position locked up; he’s just getting the first crack at it. His primary competition will come from Brandon Pirri, the AHL’s leading scorer last season. While Pirri said he’d be fine playing on the third or fourth line — “I would do it with a smile,” he said — he’s hoping to get the same chance Saad had as a rookie, to play a top-six role with elite veteran players and expedite the learning curve.

“I’m sure anyone [would],” Pirri said. “If you ask anyone, they can probably do well on that line. [Saad] had a great year last year; he got more comfortable as the year went on. And if that opportunity is there, I’m going to make the most of it.”

To hold off Pirri, a natural center, Saad will need to show he can handle the many demands of playing the pivot. He’s a playmaker who’s strong on the puck and not afraid to be physical, but he’ll need to be more responsible defensively in his own end and take faceoffs. Saad was a paltry 17-for-46 (37 percent) on draws last season — most of his draws coming when Toews was tossed from the dot.

“This is a whole new position, so I’ve got a lot to improve on,” Saad said. “Last year went well. It was a good learning experience, and I’m looking to play even better this year.”



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