Pondering the sky-high expectations for Bedard’s rookie season
Chicago Blackhawks’ forward Connor Bedard put on an absolute show at the Tom Kurvers Prospect Showcase on Saturday.
The former first-overall pick wasted no time beginning his transition to the NHL level, scoring a hat trick in a 5-0 rout of the St. Louis Blues prospect team.
While much of the time at these prospect tournaments is spent dissecting farm-level talent, all eyes were on Bedard – a player who, despite being just 18, looked considerably superior relative to his weekend competition.
Bedard spent three seasons with the Regina Pats in the WHL prior to being selected by the Blackhawks, filling his trophy case with hardware. He was named WHL Rookie of the Year in his first season, and Most Valuable Player (underpinned by a staggering 143-point season) in 2022-23.
So yes, it was just one hat trick in just one meaningless preseason prospect tournament. But it’s also in line with our massive expectations of Bedard’s future in Chicago.
Quite frankly, Bedard looked so talented that it made me want to explore one specific question: How have other budding superstars performed at such an early age, and what’s realistic to expect from Bedard over the next nine months?
The good news is we can lean on several examples in recent history as possible comparables. Chicago’s Patrick Kane, Edmonton’s Connor McDavid, and Toronto’s Auston Matthews are just three of the 44 forwards who have played full or close-to-full seasons at the age of 18.
From a scoring perspective, here’s how they rank:
It may be many, many years before we see another player as talented as McDavid, and the signs were obvious early. Despite a major injury in a game against the Philadelphia Flyers that sidelined him for weeks, McDavid still put up lofty scoring totals – his 48 points in 45 games remains the gold standard for age-18 performance in the modern era, a number that stands out when you control for his games lost to injury.
But if comparing anyone to McDavid feels a bit uncomfortable, I draw attention to other names – superstars like Kane and Matthews, but also players like Patrik Laine and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. All were able to score close to 75 points over an 82-game schedule, and all did so in a muted scoring era.
The NHL’s offensive explosion in the last few years is a rising tide that will lift all boats, and specifically for Bedard, should give him the opportunity to put together one of the more productive age-18 seasons in recent history.
The only question I think one can reasonably have for Bedard right now: Does he have the appropriate teammate help in Chicago to succeed immediately?
When very young players transition to the NHL level, it tends to be because of two distinct elements: (a) they are blue-chip skaters, usually taken near the top of the first round of the draft; and (b) because of where they were selected, they’re generally brought into organizations very light on playing talent.
Irrespective of your opinion on the quality of Chicago’s rebuild so far, the reality is this is a team that was -97 goals to the downside last season and went through a colossal leadership overhaul in the off-season.
Forwards like Taylor Hall and Tyler Johnson can still generate offence on their own accord, but the rest of the lineup is quite thin, and the organization has just nine rostered players it is committed to in 2024-25.
Hall would seem like a quality wing option for Bedard as a speedy attacker who can generate heaps of pressure from the interior. But beyond that, it’s going to be Bedard who has to do a lot of lifting in year one for a team with little postseason hope.
That said, I doubt Blackhawks fans are complaining, especially after this weekend. Bedard looks like a star in the making – the type of player who can change the fortune of an organization in a blink.
Data via Natural Stat Trick, NHL.com, Evolving Hockey, Hockey Reference