ST. PAUL, Minn. — A hat trick in an NHL prospect game would be a big deal for almost any player.
Not Connor Bedard. As much as everyone around him was marveling at his three-goal performance in his debut for the Chicago Blackhawks on Saturday, Bedard downplayed what he did. For one, it’s what he has come to expect of himself, especially against players around his age. More importantly, he knows he’s not in the NHL yet.
“Like I said, it doesn’t mean too much, but it’s nice to play games,” Bedard said following the Blackhawks’ 5-0 win over the St. Louis Blues prospects. “It was so much fun being with the guys, getting here, music is playing and you just have that mojo going in. That was the best part, getting back into it. It was real competitive, so it’s fun.”
Bedard may not value his game until he’s doing the same in the NHL, but what the Blackhawks and their fans witnessed Saturday validated for them all the hype since he was drafted first overall in June. When Bedard unleashed the puck off his stick from the lower right circle during the second period — as he and few others in the world can — and delivered it into the left corner of the net for his first goal, it was as if all the hyperbole directed Bedard’s way in recent months collided with the reality of the player he is. It may have been one goal in one meaningless prospect game, but it permitted Blackhawks fans to dream again about the future. Bedard is really that good.
Let’s dive further into Bedard’s game and discuss what stood out.
In this first clip, Bedard carries the puck into the zone with speed, forcing the defenders to back off. He then stops, and pulls the puck back, creating time and space for him and his teammates. He finds a teammate on the rush for a quality shot. Later in the play, Bedard moves the puck to the middle of the ice. He’s far from the net, but something he does well is change the angle of his shot. That allows him to get shots to the net in places where it’s normally difficult.
Here’s another example of where he changes the shot angle and shoots around sticks.
This is another example of Bedard getting off a low shot in traffic. He’s reading the defender and quickly adapting where to get the puck off. Not every shot may be ideal, but he’s working with quantity, too. He knows he’s going to get plenty of chances in a game. He deserves to score on some and some he doesn’t, but categories add up. The Blackhawks had him for 11 shots on goal Saturday.
Bedard didn’t score on this breakaway, but he probably does more often than not.
Bedard is going to be fascinating to watch on the power play. There isn’t just one spot for him. He moves everywhere.
Bedard’s release is just extraordinary. Asked about his first goal, he said: “It was nice, of course. It was a really good screen. Just threw it to the other side. Feels good, of course, to get one. Just a rookie game here doesn’t mean much, but it’s always good to score.”
On Bedard’s second goal, it’s worth noticing where he starts with the puck and how he maneuvers to where he ultimately shoots. He understands how to create just enough space. Once he has that space, his shot does the rest. He said this about the goal: “I saw where it went. I saw a little far side, and it was kinda late on the power play, so I thought I’d go for it. Lucky it went in.”
On his third goal, it’s a combination of so many things. It’s him creating enough space off the defender and then, again, shooting low and through sticks. He’s also moving one way and shooting another. The goalie really has no chance. Blackhawks rookie team coach Anders Sorensen said of Bedard’s shot: “Just lots of changing angles. The way he catches passes — deceptive. The way he can pull pucks in and out. Impressive to watch. It was fun.”
(Photo: Chase Agnello-Dean / NHLI via Getty Images)