CHICAGO — Connor Bedard appears to be the successor to the throne of Chicago sports legends who have graced the United Center. Or maybe the air.
“I love the thought of playing at the United Center and imagining that Michael Jordan could have hit a big shot here,” said the 18-year-old, who was chosen as the No. 1 pick in the 2023 NHL Draft by the Chicago Blackhawks. “That’s pretty remarkable.”
Undoubtedly, Michael “Air” Jordan won six championships with the Chicago Bulls and is widely regarded as one of the greatest, if not the greatest, players in NBA history.
Although Bedard has yet to play a single regular-season game, the rookie center is expected to become the NHL’s next generational talent and Chicago’s next great athlete.
He will make his debut when the Blackhawks face the Pittsburgh Penguins, led by Bedard’s childhood idol, Sidney Crosby, on Tuesday (8 p.m. ET; ESPN+, ESPN, SN, TVAS).
“Just the mere thought of it is pretty mind-boggling,” Bedard said. “I texted a few of my friends. They were like, ‘You’re playing in an NHL game (Tuesday).’ It’s really special, and I’m trying to soak it all in, but at the same time, once I’m on the ice, I don’t want to be like, ‘Oh, this is so cool.’ I want to perform and be the best I can be.”
Bedard enters this season as the most highly acclaimed pick since Connor McDavid was chosen No. 1 by the Edmonton Oilers in the 2015 NHL Draft. Last season, he led the Western Hockey League in goals (71), points (143), shots on goal (360), points per game (2.51), and goals per game (1.25) in 57 regular-season games with Regina.
It’s already been a whirlwind for Bedard, who described life since the draft as a “whirlwind.”
“I wouldn’t trade it for anything,” he said. “It’s been really amazing for myself and my family. It’s crazy that the entire summer and that process are over, and you only experience it once in your life. So, I look back and I had some really cool experiences, and yeah, I enjoyed it.”
More incredible experiences await Bedard, as he is expected to help the Blackhawks return to their glory days. He will follow in the footsteps of former forwards Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, who guided the Blackhawks to Stanley Cup victories in 2010, 2013, and 2015.
Although Kane and Toews have departed, Bedard has been learning from and relying on current Blackhawks veterans, notably forwards Nick Foligno and Taylor Hall, who were acquired from the Boston Bruins on June 26. Foligno stayed in touch with Bedard throughout the summer and invited him to his family’s home for dinner. Hall, the No. 1 pick in the 2010 NHL Draft by the Oilers, has experienced much of what Bedard is about to encounter.
“He’s been so great to me,” Bedard said of Hall. “I’ve bombarded him with numerous questions because he’s been in the same situation. He’s been incredible. He’s a really good guy, and I’ve gotten to know him really well, especially over the past week, I would say.
“He approached me and said, ‘If you have any questions or anything like that, don’t hesitate.’ There are only a few guys who truly understand the circumstances and lifestyle that you go through in the three months after the draft and leading up to it, so it’s amazing to have someone like him.”
Sarah Anderson dives into the fast-paced world of NHL hockey. Her coverage includes game analysis, player spotlights, and the latest news from the ice. Sarah’s dedication to the sport ensures that hockey enthusiasts stay informed about the NHL’s thrilling action.