Looking for a guarantee in the NHL draft?
Try this: When a Mario Lemieux or a Sidney Crosby is in the talent pool, he will be the first guy taken.
Beyond that, there are not many locks.
Nonetheless, it seems fairly certain that Brandon Saad will hear his name called by some club when NHL teams gather in St. Paul, Minn., Friday night to stock their depth charts.
Simply put, he appears to have too much going for him to slip past the first round.
But even if Saad is claimed in Round 1, it will not happen as early as many people once believed it would.
A year ago, Saad, a forward from Gibsonia, was being talked about as a potential top-five selection, with an occasional whisper that he might be the first prospect taken.
Not anymore. These days, Saad looks more likely to be a mid- to late-first round pick.
He is 6 feet 1, 208 pounds, and slipped to 19th among North American forwards and defensemen in the final rankings compiled by NHL Central Scouting. That was a significant drop for a guy once viewed as a good bet to be the first U.S.-born player to go in the top five since Atlanta claimed defenseman Zach Bogosian third overall in 2008.
But scouts seemed disappointed with his performance for Saginaw in the Ontario Hockey League last season. Saad had 27 goals and 28 assists in 59 games, then put up three goals and nine assists in 12 playoff games, and his stock declined. A few mock drafts actually have him going unclaimed in Round 1.
"Brandon had a decent year," said Jay Heinbuck, the Penguins' director of amateur scouting. "I think his transition from the U.S. Development program to the Ontario Hockey League was a bit of a struggle for him. Maybe [because of] playing more games than he's used to, and the travel is pretty extensive.
"But I don't know. I guess some people think his stock has dropped. Others may not, as much. He's still a decent prospect, with size and hockey sense and decent skill. I'm not sure what the issue is. In the rankings, he seems to have slid little bit, but I don't know if I can put a finger on [why].
"I wouldn't say anything [in Saad's game] regressed. I think we were probably, like many teams, thinking he would have shined a little brighter because, boy, in those international events in the last couple of years, he was outstanding. We're not convinced that he took that next step, but he's still got a lot of ingredients teams like -- the size, the skating and skills."
That was evident in the recent NHL scouting combine, where 27 teams -- Dallas, Los Angeles and Philadelphia were the exceptions -- interviewed Saad. Such a show of interest had to ease some of the sting Saad might have felt over tumbling down the ratings, although he said that is not something he worried about.
"You do what you can on the ice, and the rankings are the rankings," he said.
"Whatever team I go to, whoever likes me, that's going to be a good fit for me."
When Saad was a freshman at Pine-Richland High School, former Penguins winger Troy Loney was one of his coaches. Saad said he opted to play in the OHL because he believes major-junior hockey can accelerate a player's development.
While going to Saginaw obviously didn't help to boost Saad in the prospect rankings, there are scouts who believe that his current status is not strictly a reflection of his work with the Spirit.
"I think maybe some other guys' stocks rose, and I don't necessarily [think] that he's fallen out of that consideration [as a top-five choice], either," said David Conte, New Jersey's director of scouting.
"That's not fair. He's really had a very representative season, worked very hard. Like every player, he's had some ups and had some downs, but probably more ups than downs. He's big, he's strong, he's motivated, he's intelligent. There's not much not to like about him."
Exactly when he is selected in Round 1 will say a lot about how much emphasis teams really put on Saad's first season at Saginaw; about whether his rather ordinary showing there is viewed a mere hiccup or a portent that elevating his game when he steps up in class could be an issue.
"It's a concern, I'll admit that," Heinbuck said.
"But a lot of that, these kids are 17- and 18-years-old, and you've got to look at the surroundings, too. Are [his teammates and linemates] helping him? Hindering him? There are a lot of different factors. I, for one, thought he would have had a more dominant year. He had a decent year, but not a dominant year."
Dave Molinari can be reached at email@example.com .