Meet New Blue Jacket Brandon Saad

Staff Writer
Columbus Monthly
Brandon Saad (left) and John Davidson, Blue Jackets president of hockey operations

Fifteen days afterthe Chicago Blackhawks lifted the Stanley Cup, left winger Brandon Saad got quite a surprise: Amid salary cap woes, Chicago traded the rising star to Columbus. Saad signed a six-year, $36 million contract with the Blue Jackets, who hope he'll help them join the NHL's elite. Ahead of the preseason, he opens up about where he's been, what he's learned and how high he thinks his new team can go.

You're 22 years old and already a two-time Stanley Cup champion. As we speak, has just published an article titled "Blue Jackets want leadership from Cup-winner Saad." Do you think your teammates will turn to you for advice and leadership despite your youth?

Yeah. I mean, there's a lot of leaders already in that locker room, but going as far as I have, some guys might look up to me more than others. You never really know. I'm just going in to be myself and take in things that I've learned from great leaders that I've played with. That's what has really made me the player I am today.

As an outsider coming in, what's your impression of the Blue Jackets?

I know every time we played them, it's always a tough game. I think the biggest thing with the depth they had is every line seems to be rolling at you, competing hard and finishing their checks. They play a blue-collar type game that's tough to play against. I think that's the biggest thing that I noticed from playing them.

Are you excited to be potentially paired with another young rising star in Ryan Johansen?

Yeah. And I'm not exactly sure who I'll end up with. You never know which lines are going to stick. There's a lot of good players, and especially Ryan-the way he plays the game, the scoring touch he has; he's really aggressive. Every team seems to have a couple superstars, and I think he definitely fits into that category. So getting to play with him, if I do end up playing with him, that will be great for me. I'm really looking forward to bonding with him and getting that chemistry on the ice.

The Blue Jackets struggled due to injury last year but ended on a hot streak. Any predictions on how this season will go?

I remember last year watching Columbus and basically thinking how tough of a team they'd be to face in the playoffs. You're going to face ups and downs, and the biggest thing is being consistent as much as you can. It's a tough league, but when you squeak into the playoffs, it's anyone's chance. And I think we're going to have a really good team.

Are you already friends with any of yournew teammates?

Dalton Prout, I played with him in Saginaw. It was just for a few months there, but I know him pretty well. The rest of the guys, not too much. It's going to be a learning experience. I've talked to a lot of them on the phone or texting, things like that. But it's a small hockey world, so there's a bunch of nice guys, and I'm looking forward to getting to know them all.

Your grandfather was an NFL official. Did you ever consider a career in football?

Growing up, especially being in Pittsburgh with how well the Steelers did in the past, I was always a fan of the game. I did play for a year or two there, but I got to a point where a lot of hockey players do, where I had to focus on one thing. I played a lot of sports growing up, and football was fun for me, too, but I always had the most fun with hockey. So by the time I hit high school, that's the career I chose. I had a lot of success at it as a kid, too, and so that's part of why I picked it. And it seemed to work out for me.

Your father is Syrian and has brought a lot of your relatives to America to rescue them from the war in Syria. Have you been able to help with that? Does being a professional athlete provide any advantages?

I don't think pro sports really helps too much with that. But with him, it's been a process of getting them to safety in the States. I helped him sponsor some of the families, so I guess being a professional athlete helped with the financial side of it. If they need the help, I'm here to help them.

Many reports about your trade described it as "shocking." Were you shocked?

Being in Chicago and knowing that we were tight against the cap and we were going to get rid of some players, it's always in the back of your mind that it could happen. But at the same time, you never think it's going to be you. So finishing the year on a high note and winning the Stanley Cup and really just celebrating with the guys and enjoying the moment, you never really think about that other stuff. And then two weeks later, I end up getting traded. It was a new experience for me, so I think the biggest thing that kind of shocked me is going through something I haven't before. At the same time, it's part of the business, and it can happen to anyone. It just happened to be me.

Do you feel bittersweet about not being able to defend the Cup?

Not too much. You want to win the Cup, and defending the Cup is really just a label of who won last year. It's any team's game, and going into this year, every team looks at it like a clean slate. It's their job, and they're hungry to win the Cup, and that's how we're going to look at it in Columbus. So really, being on Chicago or being on a different team, the goal is always to win the Stanley Cup. Regardless of where you're playing, that's always what you strive for.

Meet the New Team Captain

The Blue Jackets have played without a captain since trading Rick Nash in 2012, opting for a "leadership by committee" approach. But in the three years since then,Nick Folignohas established himself as the kind of player his teammates can rally around.

That was never truer than last season, when the 27-year-old left winger recorded a career-high 31 goals and 42 assists, scored his first hat trick and was named to his first NHL All-Star Game, where he served as captain of the home team. So when Foligno officially became the sixth captain in Blue Jackets history on May 20, the franchise was merely formalizing a leadership role he had already embraced.

Foligno comes from a family of professional hockey players. His younger brother, Marcus, plays for the Buffalo Sabres, the same team for which their father, Mike, used to play. (Foligno wears No. 71, an inversion of his dad's old No. 17 jersey.) Though he has dual Canadian-American citizenship, Foligno has suited up internationally for the United States.