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Emma: Brandon Saad Revealing His Rising Star

By Chris Emma--

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Perhaps it's the burly beard that conceals Brandon Saad's youth, which has rightfully earned him the nickname of "Manchild."

And it's most certainly the household names like Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa that secrete the star of Saad -- or at least they had. But this Stanley Cup Final has provided the 22-year-old winger with his coming-out party to the world of hockey.

"He looks like a grown man out there," Blackhawks forward Patrick Sharp said.

But Saad is just a kid, and he's only getting started.

Scoring the game-winner in Chicago's 2-1 Game 4 win over Tampa Bay on Wednesday evening will likely go down as just another notch on the belt. There are to be more moments like that third-period goal that brought Chicago closer to the Stanley Cup and evened the series 2-2.

If ever the perfect illustration of Saad's youth, it's that his hockey role models as a Pittsburgh teenager were Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin of the Penguins. The 27-year-old Toews, sitting to Saad's left in the postgame press conference Wednesday, smirked at that remark.

Saad threw Toews a bone, too. After all, he remembers watching a special group during his teen years -- the 2010 Blackhawks. My, he's a young buck.

"I remember (being) 16, 17 years old watching teams have success like the Hawks, making their runs deep into the playoffs with how they compete, the amount of talent they had," Saad said.

That was just six years ago, when the Blackhawks first broke onto the scene. Now, they're two wins away from their third Stanley Cup since Saad earned his driver's license.

Had Saad not pushed in front of the Lightning crease and beat 20-year-old rookie backup goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy with a backhand shovel, maybe the Blackhawks wouldn't have evened this series at two games apiece. Saad's contributions this postseason have been monumental, and he now has eight goals to show for it.

"Obviously, our team is having a lot of success this postseason," Toews said. "He's a big reason why."

There's some high praise for a guy that Saad grew up watching.

Saad dumped 23 goals to the back of the net this regular season while adding 29 assists, all while primarily working on the Blackhawks' top line with Toews and 36-year-old Hossa, one of the NHL's most steady veteran forwards. Not once did Saad appear out of place.

"He's fast, he's big, he's strong, he's dangerous," Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said.

While it would be nice to think the Blackhawks' core will last forever, that's just not the case. Hossa is 36, Sharp is 33 and cap room must be created, with general manager Stan Bowman likely to act with an offseason trade.

Keeping Saad, a pending restricted free agent, becomes a top priority for Chicago, which undoubtedly will pay a pretty penny to make it happen. Saad is next in line to be a part of the Blackhawks' group of top-tier talents. He's a homegrown talent and one of the reasons -- along with Kane, Toews, Duncan Keith and others -- why the Blackhawks will continue to be hockey's perennial Cup favorite.

Of course, who's to count out Saad as one of hockey's brightest young stars? He's making this postseason a personal statement to his potential.

"He just keeps showing that," Toews said. "I think he just assumes that responsibility, and he wants to be one of the best players, he wants to contribute in games like tonight. We saw that again."

Sure, Saad's "Manchild" appearance masks youth with the look of a grizzled veteran, and the Blackhawks' poster boys have overshadowed the 22-year-old from the national spotlight, but one of the game's top young talents is no longer a secret.

Watch out, hockey world, because Brandon Saad is coming.

Follow Chris on Twitter @CEmma670.

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