Bedard arrives in Chicago for the first time since the draft


CHICAGO – Connor Bedard said he had visited Chicago only once before, “when I was quite young. »

“I don’t remember very well,” he added.

This time, his visit promises to be much more memorable.

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The Connor Bedard era has begun with the Chicago Blackhawks, who presented the first overall pick of the 2023 draft in a welcome meeting at Fifth Third Arena on Friday.

« It’s great, » said Bedard, who was joined by five of the 11 players drafted by the Blackhawks Wednesday and Thursday in Nashville: forwards Oliver Moore (19th overall), Martin Misiak (55th), Nick Lardis (67th) and Milton Oscarson (167th) as well as goalkeeper Adam Gajan (35th).

“We talked about it. To be here and to witness the support of people for us and for the team… There are no words to describe how we feel at the start of this adventure for all of us. I am thrilled to be part of the Blackhawks organization. »

Bedard led the Western Hockey League (WHL) in goals (71), points (143), shots (360), points per game average (2.51) and average goals per game (1.24) in 57 regular season games with the Regina Pats this season. He also tied for the top of the WHL in assists (72) and game-winning goals (11).

Now the 17-year-old must prepare to make the jump to the NHL. The first step was to start development camp with the Blackhawks on Friday. Bedard is one of 20 players who will attend the camp, which runs until July 6.

« I’ve never experienced this caliber, » he said. It will be an important summer for me, to try to make the team and play in the NHL, of course. Obviously, it’s very fast and everyone is bigger and stronger. On my side, I will have to become a little faster. It’s hard to say, since I haven’t experienced that caliber of play yet, but I’ll try to practice my style of play on the ice and we’ll see how it goes. »

Bedard said he received two memorable messages after being drafted Wednesday night. One was from the Pittsburgh Penguins center Sidney CrosbyBedard’s favorite player growing up who he’ll likely face when Chicago kicks off its season in Pittsburgh on Oct. 10.

The other came from the striker Patrick Kane, the Blackhawks’ previous first overall pick (2007). Him and the center Jonathan Toews were mainstays of Chicago’s championship teams in 2010, 2013 and 2015.

Bedard is expected to become the new face of the Blackhawks after the departures of Kane and Toews. Kane was traded to the New York Rangers on Feb. 28 and could become an unrestricted free agent on Saturday. The Blackhawks announced on April 13 that they would not re-sign Toews, their captain since the 2008-09 season. He too will benefit from his complete autonomy from Saturday.

It’s a lot of pressure for Bedard, whose every move will be scrutinized. The good news for Bedard is that he is used to it. He’s been the most coveted prospect in the NHL since Connor McDavid was drafted by the Edmonton Oilers in 2015.

“The attention paid to me and the noise outside have gradually increased since I was 11 or 12 years old,” explained Bedard. It didn’t happen overnight. The important thing for me is just to stay focused on what’s important: hockey, the people around me, my teammates and everything else. I focus on that and try not to worry too much about what people say about me. »


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