FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
March 10, 2022
SHAPED BY ADVERSITY: SAIGEON TAKES FLIGHT WITH K-WINGS
After setbacks limited Saigeon to 100 games over the last three seasons, Kalamazoo’s points leader is working towards next level.
By Collin Murphy for K-Wings.com
KALAMAZOO, MI – Brandon Saigeon’s future as a professional hockey player seemed inevitable from the moment he was drafted No. 4 overall by the Belleville Bulls (turned Hamilton Bulldogs) in the 2014 OHL draft followed by an NHL selection in 2018. And now, with Saigeon currently leading the K-Wings in assists (23) and points (31), that sure-fire future seems to be coming to fruition.
But success is far from a guarantee, especially when a 16-year-old Saigeon still had a lot of hockey left to play before professional consideration. Perhaps the most common obstacle preventing athletes from reaching full potential is injury, and Saigeon is no exception to that, yet he’s continued to improve his game anyway.
“I shattered my radius and ulna in my left arm so I missed like half the year,” Saigeon said of the 2015-16 season, his second in the OHL.
“It obviously adds pressure, but I think when you get drafted (in the OHL) high like that you have to work hard to prove that team right,” Saigeon said. “I feel like I was lucky enough to be able to do that.”
Second year's in the OHL are considered career-defining, and Saigeon scored just four goals and 10 assists in 43 games played in 2015-16 with a +/- rating of -25. But the downtick in performance wasn’t just attributed solely to Saigeon’s play, the newly relocated Hamilton Bulldogs, in their first season after the move, finished in last place in the OHL East Division.
But that’s when John Gruden, current Boston Bruins assistant coach, took over as head coach in Hamilton and Saigeon blossomed. Gruden believes it’s Saigeon’s team-first mindset that’s pulled him through adversity.
“He’s a smart hockey player, sees the ice well,” Gruden said. “He’s very observant and open to changing any type of his game that needs to change. Instead of always worrying about scoring, he makes winning battles more important.”
Over the next two seasons, with Gruden leading the way, Saigeon returned to full health and took off. The Grimsby, ON native scored 119 points in 131 games in two years under Gruden, earned a +49 rating and helped the Bulldogs win the OHL championship in 2017-18.
“Gruden came in and he was a great coach, he really knew the game well,” Saigeon said. “That has a lot to do with my success, just the opportunities that he gave me, I think he’s a good player’s coach.”
For Gruden, the challenge of winning and developing players like Saigeon at the same time was a “fine line” he had to walk as a head coach.
“The quicker you can get them to understand that by having this type of (team-first) mindset, it’s only going to benefit you,” Gruden said. “It might take a few points off the board for you, but sacrificing a little bit of that for the better of the group makes you a better all-around player.”
The Colorado Avalanche then selected Saigeon with their fifth-round pick (No. 140 overall) in the 2018 NHL draft. Saigeon soared after his selection, scoring 37 goals (T-No. 15 in OHL), 55 assists (T-10) and 92 points (12) in 2018-19.
Saigeon was primed to go pro and joined Colorado’s ECHL affiliate, the Utah Grizzlies.
But the next three years were full of struggles for Saigeon, battling more injuries, including missing a full season recovering from a sports hernia (2020-21), and totaling just 39 points in 100 ECHL games with Utah and the Wheeling Nailers (2021-22) combined.
Knowing the challenge at hand this season, Saigeon has rebounded again to set new career-highs in assists (23) and points (31) thus far. Not to mention, his eight goals are currently tied for a career-best mark as well with 17 games remaining.
The experience he’s gained through resiliency, and the grind with the K-Wings in 2022-23, has allowed Saigeon to compile strong performances and develop leadership through consistent production & relying on his team.
“It’s a long year, I like to keep things light, have that comradery with the teammates,” Saigeon said. “When it’s time to dial it in, that’s where I like to flip that switch and use my experience, the veterans I’ve learned from in the past and help the younger guys on the team.”
That mentality has allowed Saigeon to play every game this season for the K-Wings, something the head man expected following a detailed recruiting process.
“We felt like there was a lot of upside with him, that the offense was there and he had a little bit of bad luck in his first two years in the ECHL,” K-Wings head coach Joel Martin said.
“He’s good on faceoffs,” Martin added. “Getting possession of the puck is huge, and he’s been reliable defensively in our own zone. When he’s not producing as well, he’s still been getting opportunities and creating momentum for us.”
For Saigeon, he feels the adversity has helped build the mental side of his game, and these experiences will make him a better player moving forward.
“Even when you’re not 100%, being able to find ways to contribute any way you can, builds up that mental strength,” Saigeon said. “Now, with a good situation here in Kalamazoo, using that mental strength when you are healthy, that’s a pretty nice combination to have.”
The Kalamazoo Wings are a professional hockey team located in southwest Michigan that has been a staple in the Kalamazoo, MI professional sports landscape since 1974. The K-Wings compete in the ECHL and are the AA affiliate of the National Hockey League’s Columbus Blue Jackets and the American Hockey League’s Cleveland Monsters. Kalamazoo plays their 36 regular season home games at Wings Event Center from October through April.