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Blackhawks’ Brandon Saad — headed for a healthy scratch? — in fight for role

Brandon Saad had just 18 goals and 17 assists in 82 games last season. (AP Photo)

Call them mannequins. Call them dummies.

Either way, Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville positioned two of them — dressed in full team garb and holding sticks — in front of a goal during practice Monday at MB Ice Arena.

Players fired shots past — and sometimes into — the figures from the front. Goalies whacked at the life-sized obstructions with their sticks from behind.

This had to be the worst role for any player, even a non-human one, on the ice. On the other hand, Brandon Saad’s wasn’t much better.

As their teammates skated in black or red jerseys, wings Saad and Andreas Martinsen participated while clad in ‘‘healthy scratch’’ white. For the journeyman Martinsen, it was just another day at the office. But for Saad, whose last healthy scratch with the Hawks came in April 2014, it had to feel like getting knocked down a peg.

‘‘No one wants to be out of the lineup,’’ he said. ‘‘That’s never fun, no matter who you are.’’

The question: Will Saad be in or out of the lineup Thursday against the Coyotes?

‘‘We’ll see,’’ Quenneville replied cryptically.

Gone — for how long? — are the days when the 25-year-old Saad could bank on a No. 2 line assignment alongside Patrick Kane and Nick Schmaltz. In the Hawks’ 4-3 victory Saturday against the Blues, rookie Alexandre Fortin joined the second line and Saad was bumped down to the fourth with Marcus Kruger and David Kampf. Saad played about only 10 minutes and didn’t play at all in overtime.


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Luke Johnson was with Kruger and Kampf as Saad practiced with his role on the team up in the air.

‘‘Nothing was said to me about a lineup change or anything like that,’’ Saad said. ‘‘You just come in, you see your jersey, you go out there and play.’’

Quenneville has been disappointed with Saad’s play in ‘‘battle areas.’’ Whether it’s being willing to fight for the puck or being able to keep it on his stick and get to the net, Saad — who has no goals and two assists in five games — has been coming up short.

That the principal player he was traded for before last season, Artemi Panarin, continues to flourish with the Blue Jackets is just an unfortunate coincidence.

‘‘[Saad’s] mindset is what it is,’’ Quenneville said. ‘‘And I just think that whether it’s urgency or passion, I think coming up with more loose pucks in those areas is probably going to be the difference.’’

Is this just a wakeup call from a frustrated coach?

‘‘I’m assuming that’s what it is,’’ captain Jonathan Toews said. ‘‘But I guess I don’t really know where the coaches are coming from, so I’m not going to comment on that. But I think Saad has been doing some good things.’’

Being scratched would be an unexpected low for a player who appeared in all 82 games with the Hawks last season, all 82 with the Blue Jackets the season before and all 82 in 2014-15, the last season of his first stint with the Hawks.

‘‘Things aren’t always going to go your way, but to be out of the lineup was a surprise today,’’ Saad said. ‘‘But it is what it is.’’

NOTE: An announcement about goalie Corey Crawford’s status should come Wednesday. If Crawford rejoins the lineup Thursday for the first time since December 2017, expect it to mean a demotion for Anton Forsberg. Cam Ward has solidified his standing as Crawford’s eventual backup, and coach Joel Quenneville is no fan of carrying three goalies.