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Blackhawks’ Brandon Saad hoping ‘fresh start’ helps him rediscover scoring touch

The verdict seems to have been in for a while now: The Blackhawks were fleeced by the Blue Jackets when they made the 2017 offseason trade that sent Artemi Panarin to Columbus and brought Brandon Saad back to Chicago.

At least, that was a ready narrative as Panarin blossomed into one of the best players in the league while Saad seemed to leave former Hawks coach Joel Quenneville generally wanting more.

“People are going to assess whatever they want, but I know the type of player I am and I’m confident in my abilities,” Saad said before the Hawks hit the road for a noon Saturday game against the Flyers. “[Panarin’s] a hell of a player — you’ve got to give him that — but, at the same time, I’m very confident in what I bring to the table, too. As for who won [the trade], I don’t really look at it like that. People can say what they may, but for me, it’s just about having fun and playing hockey.”

Saad has played well of late, even as the Hawks have spun out in the standings and made the coaching change heard ’round the hockey world. After going without a goal for eight games to start the season, Saad has four in the last eight. He is fourth on the team in that department and nearly had his fifth goal in Thursday’s 4-3 loss to the Hurricanes, spinning on a defender, fighting his way into the crease and unleashing a screamer that nicked teammate David Kampf’s stick on its way into the net.

Brandon Saad celebrates with Jonathan Toews after his first goal of the season. (AP/Matt Marton)

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New coach Jeremy Colliton is sounding a brighter tune about Saad than Quenneville sometimes did.

“He’s got a big engine, for sure,” Colliton said. “He works really hard.

“With all these guys, I think we’ve got a lot of speed. We want them to use their speed to make it tough on the opposition — forechecking, pressure on the puck back, causing turnovers. He’s one of those guys who can really do that.”

Saad credits Quenneville with molding him into the player he is, but he wonders if what he called the “fresh start” that comes with a coaching change might turn him back down the path that led to a career-best 31-goal season in Columbus in 2015-16.

“I think the sky’s the limit, really, with the type of players we have here and my ability,” Saad said. “You’ve seen it in the past. Whether it’s 20 goals or you’ve hit 30 before, I think I’m very capable. I don’t want to set a goal, but at the same time, if I’m playing well every night, the sky’s the limit whether it’s points or helping the team win or contributing in those types of production aspects.”

NOTES: The Hawks will be without Marcus Kruger for at least one game. The forward injured his left leg going hard to the net in the second period against the Hurricanes, drawing a penalty on the play. He missed the rest of the game and Friday’s practice and did not travel with the team to Philadelphia.

• Friday was a maintenance day for Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook and Jonathan Toews, each of whom sat out practice.

• The Hawks signed 2018 first-round draft pick Nicolas Beaudin to a three-year, $3.5 million entry-level contract. The defenseman will remain in the QMJHL.