‘Special skill set’: NHL stars eager to see what Connor Bedard brings on big stage

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Connor Bedard thinks hockey fans are probably sick of hearing about Connor Bedard.

The No. 1 pick at June’s NHL draft, the sport’s most talked about prospect since Connor McDavid, has been mentioned as a potential “Next One” since age 13.

And after Bedard dominated junior hockey on both the national and international stage the last few years, once-proud Chicago hit the jackpot when it won the right to select the phenom from North Vancouver, B.C.

There have been countless articles written, stories splashed across screens, and jaw-dropping highlights posted to social media. The hype will have reached a fever pitch by the time Bedard makes his NHL debut next week.

The calm, soft-spoken, 18-year-old Bedard has done his best to keep that noise at bay.

“I don’t really see it,” he said at the recent NHL/NHLPA player media tour in suburban Las Vegas. “Of course, there’s a lot on the outside, but I focus on what I can control.

“People are probably getting sick of seeing me all the time.”

The rest of the NHL, however, is eager to see what the game’s next great talent has to offer on the big stage.

“Special player,” Montreal Canadiens winger Cole Caufield said. “Successful everywhere he’s been. Being a No. 1 pick, he gets thrown into a pretty bad team. There’s going to be some ups and downs, but he’s got so much potential.

Attention wholly justified

“It’s just how fast it occurs.”

New Jersey Devils centre Jack Hughes said the attention afforded Bedard is wholly justified.

Would be nice if we didn’t have to play him four or five times a year. … Talent he’s got is undeniable.— Predators forward Filip Forsberg on Chicago rookie Connor Bedard

“Here for a reason,” said the top pick in 2019. “Tremendous junior career. He’s going to be a great player in the league for a lot of years.

“Gonna be special.”

Nashville Predators forward Filip Forsberg just wishes Bedard, who had 71 goals and 143 points in 57 games with the Western Hockey League’s Regina Pats last season, was suiting up somewhere other than the Central Division his team shares with Chicago.

“Would be nice if we didn’t have to play him four or five times a year,” Forsberg joked. “But it’s gonna be cool to see. The kid’s been dealing with the hype since he was 13, so I don’t know how much of that is really going to be different for him, but it will be the biggest challenge of his career.

“Talent he’s got is undeniable.”

McDavid is one of the few people in the world able to fully grasp what Bedard, who has already shown flashes of what’s to come in pre-season, has been going through the last few years.

The top selection at the 2015 draft and captain of the Edmonton Oilers said the centre with elite vision and a rocket shot with pinpoint accuracy is no doubt eager to just get playing.

Trained with McDavid in summer

“It could definitely feel that way,” said McDavid, now the face of the NHL. “The longer it goes, the more you’re thinking about it. I know for me, I was starting to have doubts in terms of, ‘Why’s there all this [attention]?’ You feel good about your game, you’re a good player, but it’s like, ‘This feels like it’s a little bit above and beyond.’

“I’m sure he’s got to that point.”

McDavid trained with Bedard in the summer alongside former NHLer Gary Roberts north of Toronto before the pair joined Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby for a camp in late August.

“Guys that have gone through a similar thing,” Bedard said of getting advice from two greats in McDavid and Crosby. “It’s good to hear from them.”

He added skating with Crosby, who the reigning Canadian Hockey League player of the year looked up to as a youngster, was a summer highlight.

“Such a genuine person,” Bedard said. “He takes time for everyone. For me growing up and idolizing him, watching him countless hours, it’s pretty special to talk to him, pick his brain a little bit.

“I’m pretty fortunate.”

Colorado Avalanche defenceman Bowen Byram, a fellow B.C. product, has skated with Bedard on occasion and seen the five-foot-10, 185-pound forward’s unique talent up close.

“Incredible player with a very special skill set,” Byram said. “He’s gonna step in seamlessly.”

“The numbers he put up are mighty impressive,” Los Angeles Kings captain Anze Kopitar added. “We’ll see how that translates in the NHL.”

Buzz around Chicago noticeable, Jones says

Arizona Coyotes winger Clayton Keller doesn’t expect the adjustment will take long.

“Unbelievable player,” he said. “So much talent. They’ve got some good veteran guys around him to welcome him into the league.”

Chicago defenceman Seth Jones, one of those established players in the Windy City, said the buzz around the franchise after some difficult seasons on and off the ice is noticeable, and it’s almost entirely down to Bedard.

“A lot of excitement in the city,” he said. “Playing in the best league in the world, that comes with pressure, of course, but we just want him to have fun.”

Jones echoed the accolades about Bedard the player but is even more impressed by the person.

“Great guy,” added the blueliner. “He’s quiet, he’s humble, he just wants to work and play hockey.”

It’s been a quite some time since Bedard, who threw out the first pitch at a Chicago Cubs game in July, played meaningful hockey after Regina was eliminated from WHL playoffs in April.

“Been so long,” he said. “A great summer, but at some point, you just want to get back to playing and in that routine.

“Still trying to enjoy everything, but I can’t wait to get going.”

It won’t be long now.



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