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Connor Bedard would consider Blackhawks’ draft selection a “huge honor”


BUFFALO, N.Y. — Last summer, Connor Bedard met two significant people in the hockey world for the first time.

One was Kyle Davidson, the Blackhawks general manager who will use the No. 1 draft pick to officially bring Bedard to Chicago later this month. That was a far-off hypothetical last summer; this week, when Bedard met again with Davidson and the rest of the Hawks’ staff at the NHL scouting combine, it felt a lot more real.

The other was Connor McDavid, the Oilers superstar and 2015 top pick to whom Bedard has been widely compared. McDavid and other former top prospects offered Bedard some advice.

“Living in the moment is a big thing a lot of people have told me,” Bedard said Friday. “That’s huge, with all the outside noise and other stuff going on, to just enjoy things and be where your feet are.”

As the buzz around Bedard swells to a fever pitch — as the draft June 28-29 in Nashville finally approaches — the no-ego, no-frills 17-year-old forward with pale blue eyes, short curly hair and no sign of stubble has taken that advice to heart.

“This is our dream,” he added. “All of this, we’ve got to take in and enjoy it. Obviously, you want to see what happens and whatnot. But for me, I’m just trying to enjoy everything that goes along with it.”

As far as what will happen, there’s really no question. He’s going to be a Hawk.

He has been careful during every public appearance — including a TV media tour during the Stanley Cup Final in Las Vegas earlier this week — not to speak of that as a foregone conclusion. His insistence on taking absolutely nothing for granted has actually become a little funny, if also admirable. During one answer Friday, he insisted his NHL dreams wouldn’t feel realized until he plays a game, “if I do.”

He was willing, however, to at least consider how it would feel if the Hawks choose him — and his answer should prompt a sigh of relief from even the most doomsday-fearing Chicagoans.

“It would be awesome,” he said. “The history with that organization and that city with sports would be unbelievable [to join]. We’ll see what happens. If they do select me, that would be a huge honor.”

Bedard will soon become part of that history. No matter how smoothly (or poorly) things go in the coming years, the Hawks’ next chapter will unquestionably be labeled their Bedard Era.

And Bedard’s passion for hockey — something raved about by everyone who crossed paths with him during his off-the-charts Canadian junior career — is immediately evident, even in his generally understated speaking style. Playing in the NHL has been on his mind since he touched a hockey stick as a little kid in Vancouver.

“You watch it; [you] grow up being a fan of it,” he said. “All the guys here, if they ask them, they’ve all dreamed of playing in the NHL. It has always been the main goal. As young as I can remember, that has always been the dream, for sure.”

Interestingly, he described his hockey IQ, rather than his renowned shooting, as his strongest attribute.

He meanwhile plans to prioritize his skating training this summer — having seen how much faster the NHL has become — while also spending time improving his one-timer and his goal-scoring in dirty areas around the net, which the Hawks will certainly appreciate hearing.

He might have to think the most, though, about how he will handle the otherworldly, arguably unfair expectations and spotlight that will immediately be placed upon him come training camp in September.

The pressure on him will indeed be heavy enough to smother the average NHL player. Bedard will also need to prove his exceptionality in terms of groundedness and mental resilience, not just on-ice skill.

Only time will tell if he can. But Adam Fantilli, the projected No. 2 pick to the Ducks who played alongside Bedard during his earth-shaking world junior championships explosion in January, expressed full belief Bedard will handle it with ease.

“He’s a phenomenal hockey player who deserves everything he’s getting,” Fantilli said. “There’s a lot of eyes on him…[because of] the amount of success he’s had in juniors and on an international level. In my eyes, he’s going to be able to exceed those [expectations] because he’s such an amazing guy and amazing player.”


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