Connor Bedard to make surprise return Thursday for Blackhawks after missing nearly 6 weeks with broken jaw

CHICAGO — Connor Bedard is back — and ahead of schedule.

The Chicago Blackhawks rookie is set to play Thursday night against the Pittsburgh Penguins at the United Center, returning to action for the first time since suffering a broken jaw Jan. 5 against the New Jersey Devils.

Bedard, who had surgery Jan. 8, originally was projected to require six to eight weeks for his recovery.

At the earliest, that timeline would have put him in line to play Monday against the Carolina Hurricanes, but his return comes four days earlier, the team confirmed Thursday.

Bedard has been practicing for weeks wearing a face shield and wearing noncontact jerseys. Players typically participate in at least a couple of practices with full contact before returning to a game, but Bedard hasn’t done so.

In fact, he wore a green noncontact jersey as recently as Wednesday’s practice, and the Hawks didn’t hold a morning skate Thursday.

Reporters haven’t been allowed to talk with Bedard while has been on injured reserve, which is typical protocol. When Bedard suffered the injury in January, it looked as if he was in for a long layoff.

Devils defenseman Brendan Smith caught Bedard unaware and slammed into Bedard with his upper body while Bedard’s head was slightly down as he was looking to get control of the puck.

Bedard held his jaw as he skated off the ice.

Later in that game, Hawks forward Nick Foligno broke his own finger while fighting Smith on Bedard’s behalf. Foligno returned after missing seven games, but Bedard had been itching to get back into action as soon as he could skate again, according to teammates.

Coach Luke Richardson has said one more than one occasion that it had become a constant battle for trainers to rein him in, though he said Bedard had “calmed down” recently.

The Hawks have sorely missed Bedard, who missed 14 games. Despite his extended absence, he still leads the Hawks in points (33) and is second on the team in goals (15), one behind Jason Dickinson.

His 33 points still ties Minnesota Wild defenseman and fellow Calder Trophy contender Brock Faber for tops among rookies. Bedard’s 15 goals is still one better than the Wild’s Marco Rossi.

Bedard returns to face the same opponent against whom he started his career: the Penguins and childhood idol Sidney Crosby.

It’s a fitting career restart for Bedard.