Entering the 2010-11 season, draft prospects were sky high for Gibsonia's Brandon Saad. At 6-foot-2, 200 pounds, he helped Team USA win the Under-18 hockey championship in the spring 2010. He went to play at Saginaw of the Ontario Hockey League to continue to ply his trade and prepare for his draft year.
Highly respected TSN analyst Bob McKenzie polled hockey scouts in September 2010, and their aggregate rank for Saad was the fourth-best draft-eligible prospect. McKenzie wrote that Saad appeared on nine of the 10 scouts surveyed and had set himself up nicely.
Then the season began and things went south for Saad.
To be fair, Saad was a rookie in the OHL, a very competitive league featuring players up to two and three years older than him. Still, Saginaw was a strong team and Saad only managed to produce 27 goals and 28 assists in 59 games. Saad missed time with injury, and was rumored to still be playing through it, which didn't help observers who judged him as looking unimpressive.
"The issue with hype comes accountability, and Saad really dropped off the map as the year went forward," said Jesse Marshall of Faceoff Factor. "To be fair, Saad was battling injury ... but that same drive and work ethic that put him at the top of a lot of lists to start the year kind of came back to bite him in the end. He appeared disengaged a lot towards the end of the year and some people accused him of mailing it in as the season drew to a close."
The bad taste left in Marshall's mouth was shared by all the scouting services. The NHL's official scouting service dropped Saad to No. 8 among North American skaters in their mid-season draft ranking, and Bob McKenzie's survey of NHL scouts also had Saad No. 8 in January.
After his injury at the end of the season, Saad would continue to slide, down to No. 19 among North American skaters. From being ranked in the top four before season considering all prospects, to No. 19 just looking at players from Canada and America, 2010-11 has seen Saad's draft stock drop quite a bit.
There's reason to believe not all hope is lost. Saad's injury, as it's rumored around Pittsburgh, has been more significant and nagging than publicly acknowledged. That he returned to game action and pushed through the pain speaks to character and a team-first mentality. Young hockey players can be inconsistent, and Saad has size and skill that simply can't be taught. As much as he's slid during the season, Saad remains one of the most-talented and highly-regarded young players available.
"At this point, I'd bet on Saad going in the 15-25 range, mid-first round," Jesse Marshall told SB Nation Pittsburgh. The team that selects Saad figures to add a player with promise but still a lot to prove. Brandon Saad will be one of the most intrguing prospects in the draft. Though he had a disappointing season, he still has a whole professional career in front of him to prove himself.