A year ago, scouts were salivating at the thought of American power winger Brandon Saad playing in the OHL after helping to lead Team USA to a second consecutive gold medal at the World Under-18 Championships in Belarus (3-3-6 in 7 games).
At 6-1 and about 210 pounds, the Pennsylvania native plays the classic power forward's game with real skill in terms of his skating, hands and sense. The set up with him going to Saginaw seemed to be the kind of situation that would see him vault near the top of the 2011 draft class, and no fewer than three NHL scouts we talked to back in August had him No. 1 on their list of OHL prospects.
Here it is- early May, and Saad's fall from the top of the order has been precipitous. The Hockey News had him ranked 14th in their 2011 Draft Guide, which is hitting subscribers here in the U.S. this week and should be in stores by next week sometime if not sooner. Saad's spot in THN could reflect closer to where he'll be drafted, but he's dropping on the public lists because of the lack of performance this season. Central Scouting dropped him from 8 at mid-season to 19th on their final list of North American skaters, which projects him to go somewhere in the bottom 10 picks of the opening round. Red Line Report, who began the year with Saad 4th overall in August, had him at 20 in the April issue. Based on what we're hearing, he won't be any higher when the May issue arrives this week.
Saad started well, but hit the wall after scoring 20 goals over the first half of the campaign and looking every bit the scoring winger who could bring offense in bunches with the physical grit and tenacity every NHL club covets. He finished with 27 markers and 55 points in 59 games which isn't bad on the surface, but is also woefully short of what people expected of him.
And then there's a concern about his skating. A year ago, one NHL scout watched him in the U18s and marveled at his mobility and power. Now, that same scout is decidedly perplexed.
"I don't know how it happens, but Saad actually looks like he's gotten slower," the scout told B2011DW recently. "He's regressed. I try to give him the benefit of the doubt and all, but that's what I saw this year and it's definitely not a good thing."
Red Line scouts shared that NHL evaluator's opinion, putting Saad in the "Falling" category: "Only four goals in his final 22 regular season games and mediocre in the first playoff round. Oddly, his skating seems to have regressed."
Regressed. The same word from two different sources.
And in scouting circles, that is what you call a red flag.
We've also heard that he wasn't in a very good situation at Saginaw, though nobody we spoke to was comfortable enough even going on the record to talk about the Spirit and what Saad may have been dealing with. If the rumors/hearsay are true, you can understand the detrimental effect such distractions may have had on his production and overall play. How much of an excuse you can allow that to factor in for the down season, however, is up for debate.
This is what leads us to the final point on Saad. There is no questioning that he's shown some extremely high upside in the past. The team who thinks he's closer to that player and not the one who appeared to be sleepwalking through the final quarter of the season and playoffs is the one that will spend a first-round pick on Saad, likely a top-20. At some point, the potential reward and value of taking Saad, pretty much seen as a consensus top-five coming into the season is going to outweigh any of the concerns about what has gone on for him this season.
We've been doing this blog enough to believe that there are teams out there who are completely unconcerned with what has occurred with him. They are convinced that they can fix whatever ails the youngster who just may need a change of scenery, or, may bounce back once the pressure of the draft season has passed.
Whatever the situation, this kind of thing happens every year. Saad isn't the first player whose stock has taken a dip heading into the draft, and he certainly won't be the last. At the end of the day, he's strong, sharp and has all the physical qualities you look for in an NHL prospect. He might just even shock those predicting a tumble out of the top-10 if one of those clubs convinced he's every bit the force they saw a year ago believes in him enough. There will be no stealing Saad in the second round- if a team wants him badly, they'll have to jump on him inside the top-20. Anything lower than that and you're talking quite the value selection.
Every season, players come in and blow up all of the well-designed mock drafts that get published before the real thing. Is Saad going to be another one of those "mock busters"- a guy who gets overlooked because people just assume that no NHL team is willing to roll the dice with him early? Or will his draft fate reflect the negative reports and concerns that have surfaced with him this spring?
At B2011DW, we're betting that Saad's wait at the XCel Energy Center is not going to be as long as people think. Given his pure, raw potential, he's a swing-for-the-fences type guy. It isn't like there are a ton of other power forward options, either. Gabriel Landeskog is the safer pick, but our scouting sources feel Saad has the higher upside. Or, at least he did when the season started.
No guts, no glory.