CHICAGO (AP) — After years of hype, highlights and scores of points — so many points across the board — Connor Bedard arrived at his first NHL training camp with the Chicago Blackhawks.
Even Bédard, accustomed to the hockey spotlight and incredibly calm at just 18, knew it was a moment.
“Once you get on the ice, it’s hockey, and you try not to get starstruck or anything, anything like that,” Bédard said Thursday. “But yeah, waking up and telling my parents about it last night is pretty special. To be here with the fans of this city and everything, it’s remarkable. I feel super lucky. It’s definitely a dream right now.
The Blackhawks feel the same way, having used a surprise win in the NHL draft to land the highly touted center with the first overall pick. The stands were full for his first training session of the camp, dotted with Bédard number 98 jerseys.
Bedard – and the hope he brought with him to Chicago – overshadowed everything that happened on the Blackhawks’ first day on the ice. Forwards Taylor Hall, Colin Blackwell and Jalen Luypen were held out with lower-body injuries, and Jeff Greenberg left the team’s front office to become general manager of baseball’s Detroit Tigers.
It was Bédard, the new centerpiece of the rebuilding Blackhawks.
“I think it’s tough when you’re so young to have all this hype, all this pressure, all this notoriety, and he doesn’t seem to care too much,” defenseman Connor Murphy said. “He just wants to be a player and wants to improve and play at the highest level possible.”
So far, Bédard has enjoyed success at every level. He had 71 goals and 72 assists in 57 games in his final season with the Regina Pats, the most points in the Western Hockey League since 1995-96. He was also named tournament MVP when he helped Canada win gold at the World Junior Hockey Championship in January.
He’s been compared to Connor McDavid and Sidney Crosby, and he begins the season as the FanDuel Sportsbook favorite for the Calder Trophy for NHL Rookie of the Year. He warmed up for training camp with three goals and an assist in an impressive performance in his only game at the Tom Kurvers Prospect Showcase in Minnesota last weekend.
“It’s the best league in the world, so he’s excited to be here,” Blackhawks coach Luke Richardson said. “He belongs here. We just hope it continues to grow. We do not impose any limits or restrictions on it. We’ll just let him play within our team system and use his talents like he has in the past. Let’s hope he continues to grow.
Bédard’s biggest concern heading into his first NHL season might be his relative lack of size. He was listed on the team’s training camp roster at 5-foot-10 and 185 pounds, and he will undoubtedly be a marked man when the regular season begins.
Bédard himself doesn’t seem too worried.
“I’ve been hit many times throughout my life,” he said. “These guys are bigger, stronger, but for me it’s just about having your head up and being smart. I can’t go in there afraid of getting hit, so it’s not something I’ve thought about too much.
Richardson, a longtime NHL defenseman, also thought Bédard would be fine.
“He’s got a baby face, a youthful smile and a cool hairstyle, you know he’s young, but he’s very mature beyond his years and he knows what’s going on out there,” Richardson said . “He is built very low, wide, a bit like you describe a lot of Russian skating players, with good balance in his feet.
“I think he’s pretty hip and he knows how to bounce off people that come near him and get away with it, like a Crosby, and use that as a propellant. I’m not comparing him to Crosby, but he uses a technique like that because he’s not the greatest player in the world. I think he’s used to that.
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