Blackhawks’ Brandon Saad enjoying stellar start in unusual role

Despite playing fewer minutes than ever, Saad has been the Hawks’ most effective possession player so far.

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Brandon Saad has the highest scoring chance ratio on the Blackhawks after four games.

Matt Marton/AP

Blackhawks wing Brandon Saad humiliated Oilers rookie Joel Persson twice Monday.

It was hardly surprising, given Saad’s impressive start to the 2019-20 season, but it was embarrassing for Persson nevertheless.

In the second period, Saad split Persson and Oscar Klefbom to create a breakaway out of a one-on-two counter. Then in the third, Saad blew past Persson, who erroneously figured he could keep up skating backward, down the left wing and in on goal.

Saad hit the post on both attempts, but he earned a much-deserved empty-net tap-in later to give him two goals and an assist in the Hawks’ first four games.

But those totals understate the 27-year-old Saad’s dominant first couple of weeks. He has been on the ice for 33 Hawks scoring chances and only 21 opposing scoring chances, a 61.1 percent rate that ranks best on the team (excluding Brendan Perlini and his seven-minute sample size). That’s evidence of responsible, effective play in all three zones.

Saad hasn’t been riding the laces of linemates David Kampf and Dominik Kubalik, either, although all three have meshed with each other seamlessly despite their varying skills.

Thirteen of those 33 Hawks scoring chances have been high-danger, according to Natural Stat Trick, and Saad has seven of those 13. In other words, he has been the clear offensive leader among the trio of forwards (and the rotating defensemen playing with them).

‘‘They’ve all just got real big motors, big engines,’’ coach Jeremy Colliton said after the Hawks’ 3-1 victory against the Oilers. ‘‘They work and compete, and they all bring a little bit different ingredient.’’

‘‘Saad is an accomplished, proven performer. He takes the puck to the net. He’s a horse there. He’s really hard to get the puck off [of]. He transports it from the ‘D’ zone to the offensive zone. He can make those plays.’’

On one hand, Colliton gave the Saad-Kampf-Kubalik line a high-profile assignment Monday: to shut down Oilers superstars Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl.

They did so even better than he could have hoped. During the roughly 10 minutes the lines were on the ice together, the Hawks had 15 shots and the Oilers four. For the first time this season, it seemed Colliton’s eclectic line combinations clicked, and it was the Saad-Kampf-Kubalik group that emerged as the de facto ‘‘shutdown line.’’

‘‘That’s something that we’ve talked about as a team and especially as a line,’’ Saad said after the game. ‘‘That’s what’s expected out of us. For us to do that good job tonight gives us confidence going forward.’’

On the other hand, they really didn’t play all that much — just 9:40 at five-on-five.

Saad finished with 16:04 of total ice time, including about two additional minutes on the power play, but that still only raised his season average to 14:27 per game. By comparison, he has averaged more than 17 minutes per game each of the last five seasons and never less than 16:17 in his career.

So Colliton seems to be underusing him. But he also seems to be using him brilliantly, based on the on-ice results.

Perhaps the coaching staff has unlocked a completely new checking-line version of Saad.

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