CHICAGO — After Connor Bedard participated in his first official practice as a Chicago Blackhawks player Thursday as NHL training camps opened, the 2023 No.1 draft pick said he’s learning about his new home.
“The fans are unbelievable so far and it’s a beautiful city,” Bedard said, before adding one other observation: “The drivers are intense here.”
Bedard grew up in British Columbia and played his junior hockey in Regina, Saskatchewan. He said he’s spent most of his time in Chicago so far either at the rink, at his house or at teammates’ homes.
“But if I get out here or there, I get recognized a little,” Bedard said.
It’s something the 18-year-old is starting to get used to. As Bedard left the media room after his first on-ice session, escorted by security, he stopped to sign an autograph for a kid wearing a No. 98 Bedard jersey. Yet Bedard’s goals remain modest. He repeatedly has told reporters he’s just trying to make the team. After that, his goals are “to win a lot of games.” As for personal goals?
“I want to make an impact and be a good player in this league,” Bedard said.
That’s what his teammates are expecting.
“[Bedard is] going to be playing a lot of minutes for us, I imagine,” veteran defenseman Seth Jones said. “He’s going to be playing against, especially on the road, top pair defensemen and top lines, and when it comes to centermen, good centermen on faceoffs and defensively. I just told him to hang in there. He’s obviously a special player, he’s going to figure it out quickly himself.”
The Blackhawks are planning on having Bedard on their opening night roster, where he will face off against his childhood idol, Sidney Crosby, in Pittsburgh. Chicago signed several respected veterans — including Taylor Hall, Nick Foligno and Corey Perry — to help protect Bedard and ease his transition. The Blackhawks’ front office maintains that it is still in the middle of a rebuild.
Chicago did not do any line rushes for their first day of on-ice skating, which was split into two groups. However the expectation is that Hall, a former No. 1 pick known for his speed, will begin on Bedard’s wing for the Blackhawks top line. Hall, however, did not participate in Thursday’s session, with the team listing it as a lower body injury.
Bedard, whose most elite hockey attribute is his shot, made an impact last week when he participated in a prospects tournament and scored a hat trick in his first game against the St. Louis Blues’ prospects.
Foligno, the former Blue Jackets captain, specifically has stepped up as a mentor for Bedard already. “He’s been unreal,” the rookie said of Foligno. “He texted me all the time all summer, called me to see how I’m doing and make sure I’m working hard. I’ve gone over to his house to meet his family and his kids.”
When Bedard is on his own, he said he’s looking to cook — with a little help from his mom.
“I just FaceTime her, put her on the counter, and she tells me what to do,” Bedard said. “She’s making it easy on me, but I’ll try to be a little more independent.”
Bedard said he’s made some “rice, chicken, a couple tacos” but admitted he hasn’t cooked that much.
“It was just something to say here [to the media],” Bedard said to a roomful of laughs.