Even Bedard, used to the hockey spotlight and incredibly composed at just 18 years old, knew it was a moment.
“Once you’re on the ice, it’s hockey, and you try not to be starstruck or whatever, anything like that,” Bedard said Thursday. “But yeah, waking up and talking to my parents last night about it, it’s pretty special. To be here with the fans in this city and everything, it’s remarkable. I feel super fortunate. It’s definitely a dream right now.”
The Blackhawks feel the same way, after they used a surprise win in the NHL draft lottery to take the highly touted center with the No. 1 overall pick. The stands were packed for his first practice of camp, dotted with No. 98 Bedard jerseys.
Bedard — and the hope he brought with him to Chicago — overshadowed everything else that happened on the Blackhawks' first day back together on the ice. Forwards Taylor Hall, Colin Blackwell and Jalen Luypen were held out because of lower-body injuries, and Jeff Greenberg left the team's front office to become the general manager of baseball's Detroit Tigers.
It was all about Bedard, the new centerpiece of the rebuilding Blackhawks.
“I think it’s hard when you’re that young getting all this hype and pressure, notoriety over things, and he seems to not care too much about that,” defenseman Connor Murphy said. "He just wants to be a player and wants to improve and play at the highest level he can.”
So far, Bedard has been a 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 also was the tournament MVP when he helped Canada win gold at the world junior hockey championship in January.
He has 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 in the Tom Kurvers Prospect Showcase in Minnesota last weekend.
“This is the top league in the world, so he’s excited to be here,” Blackhawks coach Luke Richardson said. “He belongs here. We just hope he keeps growing. We’re not putting any limits or restrictions on him. We’re just going to let him play within our team system and use his talents as he has in the past. Hopefully he just continues to grow.”
The biggest concern with Bedard heading into his first NHL season just might be his relative lack of size. He was listed at 5-foot-10 and 185 pounds on the team's training camp roster, and he no doubt will be a marked man when the regular season starts.
Bedard himself doesn't sound too concerned.
“I’ve been hit a good amount over the course of my life,” he said. “These guys are bigger, stronger, but for me it’s just having my head up and being smart. I can’t go out there being scared to get hit so it’s not something I thought about too much.”
Richardson, a longtime NHL defenseman, also felt Bedard would be fine.
“He’s got the baby face and the young grin and the cool hairdo, 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’s built really low, wide, very much like how you describe a lot of Russian players skate, great balance on his feet.
“I think he’s kind of wired where he knows how to bounce off people that are coming at him and spin off, like a Crosby, and use that as a propellent. I’m not comparing him to Crosby, but he uses a technique like that as not the biggest player in the world. I think he’s used to that.”
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