At 6-foot-2 and 195 pounds, it’s hard to imagine Brandon Saad is still 16 years old. The fact that he leads the North American League’s Mahoning Valley Phantoms in scoring with 47 points in 47 games further obscures the fact that really, he’s still a kid.
Which is one of the reasons the hot-shot prospect, who plays both left and right wing depending on need, chose to play with the Jr. A Phantoms this season. Suiting up for Mahoning Valley enables him and his older brother and teammate, George, to remain at home in Pittsburgh with their family, while driving to Youngstown, Ohio, for hockey.
“It’s not too bad, it’s about 50 minutes,” said Saad of his commute. “I can’t drive, so I usually get to sleep.”
So while big brother George is behind the wheel, Brandon is saving his energy. So far, it’s working out pretty well.
“He’s the most well-rounded prospect I’ve coached, or even seen,” said Phantoms bench boss Bob Mainhardt. “He pretty much can do it all: very dominant physically, does a very good job defensively, wins battles…and for a big man, he has unbelievable agility.”
While the youngster would still like to work on his strength as time goes on, he knows what his special attributes are.
“I think my read of the game and playmaking,” Saad said. “I play both ends of the ice.”
And Saad is fast, which, when you put it all together, represents a pretty tantalizing prospect. No wonder his services for next year are in high demand. Options for the Pittsburgh native range from joining the U.S. national team development program, to the United States League, to the Ontario League’s Saginaw Spirit.
Wherever he lands, it’s become apparent that having this year with Mahoning Valley and playing with his brother, has been a boon for Saad’s development.
“They’re very close,” Mainhardt said of the Saad boys. “Just having each other to deal with the rough times and the good times and the ability to lean on one another has been important.”
Added Saad: “This year I was looking to stay home and (Mahoning Valley) was the best team I could play for.”
The Phantoms also allowed Saad to mature without being the focus on the team. Despite leading the North Division, the Phantoms don’t boast a top-20 scorer in the NAHL. Instead, Saad leads a charge of nine players with more than 30 points through 55 games.
“We’ve always prided ourselves on our depth,” Mainhardt noted. “We like to think we can recruit four lines.”
But Saad will undoubtedly be the one who makes the most impact as his career progresses through hockey. His heroes are lofty ones, as well.
“I used to watch Jaromir Jagr all the time,” Saad said. “Obviously I couldn’t watch him this year because he was in Russia, so now it’s big-time players like (Evgeni) Malkin and (Sidney) Crosby.”
But even those great names lack something Saad has – the ability to call themselves the greatest players to come out of a certain culture while still a teenager. Saad’s family, after all, comes from Syria. And though you might think a player of Middle Eastern descent would be an easy target for trash-talking opponents, Saad hasn’t seen it yet.
“Most people don’t know,” he remarked.
And Saad takes a lot of pride in his status of Syrian hockey trailblazer.
“It’s definitely a great feeling.”
Prep Watch, which features minor hockey players destined to become big names in major junior or the NCAA, appears every Thursday, only on thehockeynews.com.
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