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Connor Bedard takes historic All-Star nod in stride: ‘It’s just exciting to be a part of it,’ Chicago Blackhawks rookie says

NEWARK, N.J. — Connor Bedard grew up a fan of the NHL All-Star Game and skills competitions.

“I’d always tune in,” the Chicago Blackhawks rookie said Friday at the Prudential Center. “It’s a fun weekend. It’s obviously big for fans. I was always pretty into it. I remember when teams would have their own one, I went to the Canucks’ one a few times.

“Just remembering being younger and getting pretty fired up for it, so it’s good to kind of give back in that way.”

Bedard went from spectator to spectacle as the youngest player to be named an NHL All-Star when the league announced its initial 32-player roster Thursday night.

The three-day All-Star event takes place at Toronto’s Scotiabank Arena from Feb. 1-3.

Asked Friday whether the historic significance of the honor had sunk in yet, Bedard said: “I don’t know. Of course it’s exciting and something you watch growing up. Seeing the list of guys going, it should be fun.

“I don’t think about being the youngest or whatever too much. It’s just exciting to be a part of it.”

If nothing else, the milestone means he can stroll up to idols Sidney Crosby (an All-Star for the sixth time) and Connor McDavid (seventh) and brag about being younger than they were for their first All-Star nods.

“I think I’ll keep pretty quiet,” he laughed. “But that’s fun.”

Added coach Luke Richardson: “It’s a great experience for him. And he’s handled himself really well in a very high-profile position and (is) well-prepared.”

It’s a light moment and a bright spot in an otherwise drab season for the Hawks. And it didn’t last long.

Bedard exited the game against the New Jersey Devils on Friday after taking a big hit from Brendan Smith, sending the center spun to the ice. Bedard skated off holding his glove to his face and headed into the tunnel after playing 3 minutes, 5 seconds. He did not return.

The Hawks, who lost 4-2 to fall to 11-25-22, entered the day trailing only the San Jose Sharks (2.03) in goals per game with 2.32. Yet Bedard easily led all rookies with 33 points, and his 15 goals was tied for 34th among all skaters.

He’s also the Hawks’ leader in goals and assists (18).

“We’re in a tough bind right now, and it’s tough, and he’s a competitive kid, but I think when he looks at his own individual game, he should be happy with what he’s accomplishing in the league right now,” Richardson said before the game.

“And I know he trains with some of these guys and the stars in the summer, but to go and perform in a high-profile event with the NHL, it’s only going to help him grow as a player, watching a lot of these players, but also off the ice, handling what he’s handling so well already. But it just gives him more of a chance to see some of the other guys handle this as well.”

Bedard might get some tips or ask questions of the veterans, but he’s focused more on absorbing the overall experience, not necessarily studying the players’ every move.

“I think in some ways, maybe not as much in All-Star games because it’s more of a fun thing,” he said. “They’re not going to be preparing the same way for three-on-three or whatever as they are a real game.

“When you’re with those guys, you can see how they act and how they are with people and everything. It’s definitely big and a bonus for me. Just watching them and kind of be around guys who have done everything in the league, it’s good for me to learn from them.”

It’s too early to say what competition Bedard will participate in, but “the hardest shot I always enjoyed. I really like the one with the little nets, the passing one. … Those two kind of stick out to me.”

Bedard wouldn’t say which skill he would prefer, however.

“We’ll see, I guess. If I’m in it, hopefully I’ll do all right,” he said.