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updated: 6/5/2013 2:49 PM

Former Hawk Gilbert saw good things in Saad

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  • Los Angeles Kings goalie Jonathan Quick blocks a shot by Brandon Saad of the Blackhawks in Game 1 of the Western Conference finals.

    Los Angeles Kings goalie Jonathan Quick blocks a shot by Brandon Saad of the Blackhawks in Game 1 of the Western Conference finals.
    Associated Press

  • Video: Saad interview

  • Video: Saad in a shootout


While Greg Gilbert's time with Brandon Saad was brief, the impression the youngster left on Gilbert, a 15-year NHL veteran, was lasting.

"I only had him for about four months, but you could see that he was brought up the right way," said Gilbert, who took over as coach of the OHL's Saginaw Spirit in December of 2011. "All his actions were pointed toward being the best player he could be -- his work ethic on and off the ice, the way he carried himself.

"He wanted the team to be successful."

It was that kind of attitude that made it an absolute no-brainer when it came time to select a captain for the Spirit.

"When he came back from the World Juniors and we made him captain, he wanted to be an outstanding leader for us," said Gilbert, who played five seasons with the Chicago Blackhawks. "He led by example. He wasn't a yeller or screamer or a vocal guy ... he just went out and led."

Did he ever.

At Saginaw last season, Saad recorded career highs in goals (36), assists (42), points (76) and rating (plus 35) in 44 regular season games. He also put up a postseason career-high 17 points in 12 games.

"He took our team on his back," Gilbert said.

After a cup of coffee with the Hawks late last season, Saad spent time with the Rockford IceHogs during the NHL lockout and then made -- and stuck -- with the big club to start this season.

The big Hawks forward found his footing so well that he's now a finalist for the Calder Trophy for the league's top rookie, finishing with 27 points and a plus-17 rating in 46 regular season games.

"He's still a young player," Gilbert said. "One year does not make a career, obviously, but his mind is in the right place. He's got the ability to be offensive, and he's got the ability to be defensive."

While he rocked it during the regular season, Saad's postseason could not have gotten off to a rockier start. It got so bad that recording just a single assist over a five-game performance in the Minnesota series, Hawks coach Joel Quenneville had the rookie don the dreaded white jersey at practice, signifying a player without a line.

"Even without him saying anything, I know my play wasn't at my best," Saad said of the punishment.

"It was a wake-up call," Gilbert said recently. "He's a young player. You have to keep them on their toes. Every great player has gone through it. They've had their backsides slapped.

"To be quite honest with you, I'm sure it's Joel saying 'you know what? You've proved you can do more, I expect more from you.' Q's been around for years and years and he knows how to get the attention of players."

Although he struggled Tuesday night, Saad has picked it a bit up lately, registering 3 points in his last 6 games playing alongside Andrew Shaw and Viktor Stalberg, including a postseason career-high 2 assists in a 4-2 victory over the Kings in Game 2.

"I think I had a little bit of a tough start there at the beginning, but keep doing the little things, keep sticking with it and production's going to come," Saad said Sunday.

His coach was impressed.

"He had a heck of a game," Quenneville said. "He was dangerous, a threat off the rush, had a lot of puck time. Made some nice plays, some nice moves.

"Play like that really complements our team game."

Regardless of the numbers, Gilbert knows those aren't the digits that matter this time of year -- it's all about wins and the countdown to the Cup.

"All the good players, all the great players, any success they've had has been measured by the teams they've been on," he said. "He's got that mentality that he wants to win every year and he wants to be a big part of it, but he's not going to sacrifice the team for himself.

"Today's players, sometimes they're looking out more for themselves -- self preservation -- than they are for the success of the team. Brandon wants to be part of championships."

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