Concern for Blackhawks’ Brandon Saad grows after ‘ordinary’ performance

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Andreas Athanasiou #72 of the Detroit Red Wings and Brandon Saad #20 of the Chicago Blackhawks battle for the puck during a preseason game at the United Center on September 25, 2018 in Chicago, Illinois. The Red Wings defeated the Blackhawks 8-6. | Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Winger Brandon Saad’s play is a cause for concern for the Blackhawks, especially if training camp is any indication of how he will fare this season.

Coming off arguably his worst NHL season, Saad, 25, is one of several players the Hawks desperately need to have a bounce-back season. Coach Joel Quenneville knows that.

At the start of camp, Quenneville seemed optimistic Saad would be fine this season. In fact, he went so far as to deem last season a fluke, calling it an ‘‘abnormal year’’ for Saad, who finished with 18 goals, 17 assists and a 7.6 shooting percentage.

Quenneville tried to put Saad in the best position to succeed at the beginning of camp. He had him on the second line with playmakers Nick Schmaltz and Patrick Kane. But that didn’t work, and Quenneville replaced Saad with center Artem Anisimov last week.

‘‘Whether he’s playing there or not, I still think that he’s going to get plenty of ice time [with] special teams, power play, penalty-killing,’’ Quenneville said. ‘‘And he’s dangerous enough with his quickness and his speed that he can make us a deeper team.


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‘‘I’m not [saying] that he’s not going to be playing up there at any time. I think that we have some depth and some decisions to make and some looks that we’re trying. It’s not like we’re taking away that quality or quantity of ice time that he’s going to get.’’

At the time, Saad showed no signs of disappointment after being demoted from the second line to the third.

‘‘We’ve got a lot of great players here,’’ Saad said. ‘‘So for me, the great focus is controlling what I can do every day, regardless of whom you’re playing with. We have a lot of high-end skill players, and you never know where the chips are going to fall. So just keep improving, and we’ll see what happens.’’

When Quenneville got a look at Saad in action on the third line in the preseason loss to the Senators on Thursday, he didn’t like what he saw.

Asked for his thoughts on Saad’s performance, Quenneville needed only one word: ‘‘Ordinary.’’

For those not fluent in Quenneville-speak, ‘‘ordinary’’ isn’t good.

But after a day off Friday, Quenne-ville bumped Saad back to the second line Saturday with Kane and Schmaltz.

“We tried him on another line to see if there’s more balance that way,” Quenneville said. “But playing with Kaner and Schmaltzy, there’s a lot of speed, lot of possession, puts him in a way better spot to be productive.”

Kane seemed to like the idea of having Saad opposite him.

“We were developing a little bit of chemistry together before we were split up for a couple of days,” Kane said. “You’re expecting to play with different guys in training camp on different lines, and I’m sure they’re trying different combinations, too. So it’d be nice to develop some chemistry with them, and it’d be nice to pick up where we left off.”

Regardless of where he ends up once the season begins Oct. 4, Saad still is putting pressure on himself to get better.

‘‘Just bringing that focus every day and just focusing in on what you need to do and improving it,’’ Saad said.

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