April 20, 2024

Bedard ready for 1st game in Blackhawks uniform after busy offseason

ST. PAUL, Minn. — Connor Bedard has been plenty busy since last playing a game April 10.

That long wait will end this weekend.

“I can’t wait,” Bedard told NHL.com Tuesday in Henderson, Nevada, during the NHL North American Player Media Tour. “It’s been so long since I played a game. Been looking forward to that for a while.”

On May 8, Bedard found out the Chicago Blackhawks would hold the No. 1 pick in the 2023 NHL Draft, and on June 28, he was selected with that pick.

He’s attended Chicago’s development camp, skated with Connor McDavid at BioSteel camp and chatted with Sidney Crosby at the Player Media Tour in Las Vegas earlier this week.

Bedard will play a game here, during the Tom Kurvers Prospect Showcase at TRIA Rink, his first in more than five months.

The Blackhawks say Bedard will play either against the St. Louis Blues prospects Saturday (7 p.m. ET) or against the Minnesota Wild prospects Sunday (4 p.m. ET).

Each game will be streamed on the Blackhawks website.

“I know a lot of the guys, obviously with our rookies and on Minnesota I know a lot of guys. St. Louis I might, but not 100 percent sure,” Bedard said. “Just can’t wait to play a game. It feels like it’s been forever. Hopefully I’m still alright.”

The rust will likely come off quick for Bedard, who led the Western Hockey League in goals (71) and points (143) in 57 games with Regina last season, making him one of the most hyped NHL prospects since McDavid was selected No. 1 by the Edmonton Oilers in 2015.

Kalem Parker knows exactly what Bedard is capable of.

The Wild defenseman prospect was on the wrong side of a 9-5 loss to Regina on Nov. 26, playing for Victoria. Bedard had four points (three goals, one assist) and was plus-6.

“It was tough,” Parker said Friday. “He had four points. It was a blowout, but he was hard to defend, for sure.”

One WHL player who didn’t feel the scoring wrath of Bedard last season was goalie Harrison Meneghin of Lethbridge.

“In the Western Hockey League, (I did) pretty good: he hasn’t scored on me. But in high school hockey, there were sometimes when he had my number for sure,” the Wild prospect said.

“Most of the time, you don’t really notice who the player is. You just look at the hand with which they shoot. But sometimes you see him on the ice and you’re thinking about where he is.”

Those WHL players who have faced him more said limiting his time and space is crucial.

“You take that away, it limits his options. A player like that, the less time he has, the less he has to do with it,” Kamloops defenseman Kyle Masters said. Kamloops defeated Regina 9-3 on Nov. 30, but Bedard figured in on each score with one goal and two assists

“He makes special plays,” Masters said. “We were fortunate. We had a big win there, but obviously with his talent, it’s hard to keep him off the score sheet.”

Carson Latimer has been playing against Bedard since he was 14 years old, first in academy hockey (each are from British Columbia) then in the WHL, where Latimer has played for Edmonton, Prince Albert, Winnipeg and now Red Deer.

“It’s kind of a combination of both, the way he sees the ice and how he’s able to get that shot off is what makes him so special,” he said. “Obviously, you can’t give him too much of an opening or he’ll take advantage of it.

“He’s obviously matured a lot in his game. On the defensive side of the puck as well, he’s gotten a lot better over the years. Just growing up, getting stronger and that shot has just come a long way. It’s really cool to watch.”

Bedard is already considered the new face of the Blackhawks, who enter a season without former franchise forwards Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews for the first time since 2006-07.

The WHL players aren’t exactly sad to see Bedard leave the league, but they’re excited to see the 18-year-old become the next NHL star.

“In today’s world, social media is a big part of it too,” Masters said. “Little kids growing up watching. He’s the next big thing. You turn on your phone and you see him. For the game, that’s a big part of it: He’s able to grow it.”

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