It's not often a player enters the NHL with as much pressure on his shoulders as Connor Bedard does. That's what happens when a player is a generational talent like the new Chicago Blackhawks center is considered to be.
Long before the Blackhawks even landed the No. 1 pick in the 2023 NHL Draft, it was widely known Bedard was going to be the selection. Bedard made waves with the Western Hockey League's Regina Pats, showcasing his ability as a dynamic playmaker who possessed all the makings of a can't-miss NHL superstar.
Bedard was taken with the top pick in the 2020 WHL Bantam Draft and quickly showed how talented he was. During the 2021-22 WHL season, Bedard racked up 100 points (51 goals and 49 assists) while becoming the youngest player in league history to score at least 50 goals in a single season. He was also the third ever 16-year-old to tally 100 points in a WHL season.
In his second full season, Bedard proved to be a dominant force yet again. The star forward registered a mind-boggling 143 points (71 goals and 72 assists) and won the Bob Clarke Trophy as the WHL's leading scorer. In doing so, Bedard led the league in scoring and became the first WHL player to top the 140-point mark since 1995-96.
Bedard also proved his worth when the lights were the brightest during the WHL playoffs. During Regina's lone playoff series against the Saskatoon Blades, Bedard compiled 10 goals and 10 assists in the seven-game series, including registering two goals and an assist in his playoff debut in Game 1.
How have other generational talents done in Year 1?
Bedard has already thrived at the junior level, but expectations for him in the NHL are still incredibly high when he embarks on his rookie campaign. After all, Bedard has drawn comparisons to other generational talents, such as Sidney Crosby and Connor McDavid, who have entered the NHL in recent years.
Here's a look at how some other transcendent prospects have fared over the past two decades:
- Sidney Crosby: 102 points (39 goals and 63 assists) over 81 games in 2005-06
- Alex Ovechkin: 106 points (52 goals and 54 assists) over 81 games in 2005-06
- Connor McDavid: 48 points (16 goals and 32 assists) over 45 games in 2015-16
- Auston Matthews: 69 points (40 goals and 29 assists) over 82 games in 2016-17
The benchmark for an elite rookie campaign remains with Crosby and Ovechkin based on what they did in the mid 2000s. Ironically enough, both entered the league in the 2005-06 season with Ovechkin just edging out Crosby to win the Calder Trophy as the NHL's top rookie.
Washington didn't exactly have a ton of star power across its roster during Ovechkin's rookie year, a situation Bedard will find himself in with the Blackhawks. After Ovechkin's 106 points, the next closest was forward Dainius Zubrus with 57 points (23 goals and 34 assists) followed by Jeff's Halpern's 44 points (11 goals and 23 assists). Ovechkin ended up registering the third-most points by a rookie in NHL history, trailing only Teemu Selanne (132) and Peter Stastny (109).
Meanwhile, Crosby was surrounded by a bit more veteran leadership to help ease his transition into the NHL. The Penguins had three players who registered at least 50 points in defenseman Sergei Gonchar (58), winger Mark Reechi (57) and forward John LeClair (51). Crosby did have a spectacular season in which he tallied the fifth-most points by a rookie in NHL history, but he certainly had more firepower playing alongside him than Ovechkin did.
What to expect from Bedard as a rookie
This is a franchise that relied on the likes of Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews en route to three Stanley Cups over the last 15 years. However, a changing of the guard is taking place in Chicago with Kane and Toews no longer members of the Blackhawks roster.
Ironically enough, the only two No. 1 picks in franchise history were Bedard and Kane. Much like Kane did back in 2007-08, Bedard is expected to be the face of the franchise, although Bedard has even more pressure on his shoulders.
The Blackhawks tallied the second-fewest points in the NHL last season, as their offensive struggles were the reason they were able to secure the top pick and therefore Bedard. As a result, Chicago is going to be relying on Bedard quite a bit as he's set to center the team's top line, potentially alongside veterans Taylor Hall and Tyler Johnson.
Bedard provided a glimpse of what the hockey world can expect from him in the 2023 Tom Kurvers Prospect Showcase earlier this month. During that particular contest, Bedard recorded a hat trick and made a few jaws drop in a 5-0 Blackhawks win over the St. Louis Blues.
As he sat on two goals in the third period, Bedard was finally able to complete the hat trick. Bedard skated toward the middle of the ice in the offensive zone where he was able to receive the puck on his stick. He then unloaded a scorching snap shot to the back of the net.
As was evident during his performance in the prospect showcase, Bedard is a gifted offensive threat. He does a little bit of everything, allowing him to be dangerous on the offensive end of the ice.
The 18-year-old can score from just about anywhere on the ice, whether that be uncorking a shot or getting into those gritty areas around the crease to deposit goals. Bedard also possesses spectacular vision on the ice, which allows him to get the puck to his teammates. He also is capable of using his 5-foot-10 frame to be physical and deliver some bone-jarring hits.
Again, there's no doubt the Blackhawks are going to need Bedard to be one of the team's top offensive producers. After all, Max Domi led the team with just 49 points in 2022-23 and was shipped out of town at the trade deadline. As a result of not having a ton of veterans aside from Hall and Johnson, Bedard is going to need to use his playmaking ability to score and create goals throughout the 2023-24 season.
Somewhere between 80 and 100 points would be a strong season for the Blackhawks rookie. While Chicago may not make a playoff push, Bedard alone should keep them in more games than people expect. The campaign figures to be filled with highlight-reel plays that will remind everyone why Bedard has been labeled a generational talent.