Connor Bedard made his preseason debut for the Chicago Blackhawks on Thursday [28 September] and it went exactly as everyone expected.
The 18-year-old phenom recorded two assists and left hockey fans dazzled in his first professional outing – but he still wasn’t thrilled with his display.
“I think I can be a lot better,” the centreman admitted after the Blackhawks overcame the St. Louis Blues in overtime.
“I didn’t think I personally played great. It’s really good to get the win, obviously it’s preseason, but nothing’s better than winning. I felt good in the systems, which is a good thing. In the [defensive] zone I felt pretty comfortable. But I think I can do a lot better.”
Bedard, the most highly-touted prospect since Edmonton Oilers star Connor McDavid burst onto the scene eight seasons ago, played 21:20 on his preseason bow, recording five shots on goal and earning a 62.5 percent face-off win rate.
“I thought he was good,” Chicago head coach Luke Richardson said. “I think he really wanted to score. There were a couple of times where I think he maybe dove in, maybe doubled up a few times in the third period and even in overtime once we got away with a 2-on-1 there. But he reads plays very well.
“He made an unbelievable pass on the winning goal. And we saw a lot of that. He just feels comfortable with that puck, like skating in traffic. He’s going have no trouble playing with bigger guys in this league and stronger guys. He’s got that special quality that he seems to find what he needs to do at the right time.”
With that in mind, let’s unpack three standout moments from Bedard’s preseason debut.
Connor Bedard stunned NHL fans with his second preseason shift
The Canadian made an electric start to his first appearance with the Blackhawks, leaving a collection of St. Louis players in his wake just minutes into the game.
— Charlie Roumeliotis (@CRoumeliotis) September 29, 2023
There are a couple of standout plays from Bedard in the above clip, most notably the level of deception he achieved while dekeing through the neutral zone.
The former Regina Pats forward weaved between two opponents to start the move, before pulling his trademarked toe-drag move to evade defensive pressure as he made his way towards the slot.
If he continues to play at this level, the points will flow for Bedard in the NHL regular-season.
Connor Bedard bags brace of assists on preseason debut
Bedard’s assist to speedster Andreas Athanasiou for the game-winning goal was a thing of beauty, with the teenager playing the perfect saucer pass to unlock the Blues’ sprawling defence.
BEDARD TO ATHANASIOU FOR THE OT WINNER! 🚨 pic.twitter.com/aNNnCd5281
— NHL (@NHL) September 29, 2023
Clearly, he was up for the challenge of playing in his first senior game, even though he was denied a debut goal.
“I mean, of course you want to score, but I’m confident in myself and my ability and everything,” Bedard said. “For me, I can be hard on myself, but getting chances is a good thing. I had a few tonight, not as many as I would’ve liked, but I think that’s a positive whether it goes in the net or not. Obviously, you want them to go in the net. For me, what I want to do is produce, but when you’re getting those chances and looks, it’s a positive.”
Confirmed: Connor Bedard ‘likes hockey’
Bedard’s play on the game-clinching goal is made even more impressive by the fact that it ended a 90-second overtime shift, such was his reluctance to leave the ice.
“Yeah, I like hockey,” Bedard said to laughs. “I want to be on the ice, tried to circle the face-off dot a little bit. But I played 3-on-3 probably five, six days a week with everyone back home. So it’s probably the most fun in my life. Yeah, I didn’t want to get off.”
The future is extremely bright for Bedard, who could post historic rookie results this term.