“I’ve played both sides of the wing, but never center,” Saad said on Thursday.
That was news to Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville, who began auditioning Saad as the team’s second-line center during the first day of practice at the University of Notre Dame on Thursday. Quenneville was under the belief Saad had played center in juniors.
“I think he played center a lot of his earlier years, and I think that versatility of playing more than one or two positions up front gives us more depth over time,” Quenneville said after holding two practices.
Quenneville was then told by a media member Saad had just said he had never played center.
“He’s never played center?” Quenneville said. “Oh, I thought he played in juniors at some point."
Even with the new information, Quenneville was confident Saad could do the job.
"He goes all over the ice anyways, and he seems like [he’s played center,]" Quenneville said. "No matter where he’s at, he has the puck a lot. I think him being in the middle of the ice or on the walls, I think you have the puck more in the middle. When he has it, he does some good things. You like his size. I think one thing he has to adapt to is how he plays down low in his own end. But I think that will be the determining factor on how well he’s going to be doing it and how long he’s going to be doing it.”
Saad centered a line with Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa on the wings during practice on Thursday and admitted it was an adjustment.
“I got my first taste of it today,” Saad said. “It’s going to be a learning experience, but I’m going to be playing with some pretty good players, so that’s definitely going to help out.
“I’m pretty excited, actually. Center’s usually one of the best players on the ice and get to come up the middle and play well defensively. So it’s going to be new for me. But I usually pride myself on playing well defensively. Hopefully that will work out.”
Saad learned to make adjustments on the fly last season. He was a healthy scratch for the Blackhawks’ season opener, and he was unsure whether he’d stick in the NHL for the season. But then Daniel Carcillo suffered an injury in the season opener, and Saad was placed on the top line with Hossa and Jonathan Toews for the rest of the regular season.
Saad held more than his own for his first season. He had 10 goals and 17 assists in 47 games and was voted a Calder Trophy finalist.
“I guess there’s some similarities there throwing me into a new position,” Saad said. “But I’m ready for it and ready to go and ready for the challenge.”
One area Saad thinks he needs to put a lot of work into is faceoffs. He won 17-of-46 faceoffs in the regular season and 7-of-17 in the playoffs.
Saad plans on utilizing the team’s other centers, especially Jonathan Toews, to assist him.
“Fortunately, I have guys like Jonny and centers like that to hope and talk me through it and learn part of that game,” Saad said. “I’m definitely going to use that to my advantage. [Toews is] definitely going to be the No. 1 guy. He’s the premier center in the league and he does a great job of it. He’s definitely going to help me out.”