The Future Is Here

The NHL dropped the puck on its 107th season last night, and the first in which Connor Bedard will be a competitor in.

It’s already looking like neither will be the same going forward.

With intense media scrutiny in two countries, with a showcase position in a season-opening tripleheader for ESPN, Bedard and his Chicago Blackhawks did not disappoint, as CNN’s Ben Church recounted:

 Bedard lived up to the lofty expectations surrounding his National Hockey League (NHL) debut on Tuesday, helping the Chicago Blackhawks to a 4-2 win against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

The 18-year-old has been touted as a generational talent and coped well with the pressure as he dazzled inside the PPG Paints Arena, picking up an all-important assist.

“It was a lot of fun,” Bedard told reporters after making his debut.

“I think, for me, it’s just trying to get better every shift, get better every game. I created a bit. There’s obviously things I can get better at, but it felt pretty good.”

The Blackhawks found themselves 2-0 down in the second period, but the visitors eventually clicked into gear to stage a comeback win in front of a packed out arena.

As if by fate, Bedard’s debut saw him face Sidney Crosby – the Penguins star was also considered a generational talent when he broke through into the NHL in 2005.

Bedard went toe-to-toe with Crosby on a number of occasions and never looked out of place, perhaps unsurprisingly given his sensational junior career.

Scott Polacek of THE BLEACHER REPORT added:

Jason Dickinson buried the game-winning goal in the final five minutes. It was the third of four straight unanswered goals for Chicago after it fell into an early hole.

While Dickinson, Ryan Donato, Cole Guttman and Nick Foligno scored the goals, the biggest storyline was the debut of Bedard.

The symbolism was almost too obvious when Bedard and Crosby went head-to-head in the opening moment, but the veteran showed he wasn’t ready to pass the torch just yet by winning the faceoff.

That was far from his biggest contribution, as the future Hall of Famer extended Pittsburgh’s lead to 2-0 with a second-period goal after Bryan Rust started the scoring in the first. 

Yet the 18-year-old had an answer with the first point of his career, which came late in the second period.

Crosby and the Penguins have both seen better days that they did in 2022-23, but they were in far better shape than were the Hawks,  Chicago finished dead last in their division, next-to-last in the Western Conference, and won only 12 road games all season.

This little nugget from NBC Sports Chicago reminds just how rare a performance someone of Bedard’s vintage turned in:

And Bleacher Report’s sibling TNT joins the media party tonight in Boston as Bedard and the Hawks finish a back-to-back against the Bruins.  They will visit Montreal, Toronto and Colorado, three hockey-mad markets, before opening at home against the Stanley Cup champion Vegas Golden Knights a week from Saturday night.  All this before the NBA season even opens.

Oh, and mark your calendars for December 12th, when the Hawks will travel to Edmonton to take on the Oilers and that other Connor, McDavid.  McDavid was essentially Conner when he was the number one draft pick, and last season tallied a league-best 153 points and a career high 64 goals.  In his teenage rookie season, however, his goals/assists/points tally was a mere 16-32-48.   By the time the Oilers visit Chicago on January 9th, it is entirely possible Bedard could be closing in on those numbers, if not have already eclipsed them.

For a change, Chicago sports fans had some true optimism and hope, expressing their appreciation on social media and, I suspect, with pretty decent ratings for ESPN.  After all, it’s not like the Cubs and their fans were doing anything special last night, right?

They’ve fortunately got many more similar nights ahead of them.  Merely making the Blackhawks relevant and competitive again will be considered a massive win in the victory-starved Windy City.

Last night was a great first step toward that goal.


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