Bedard assist helps Penguins rally in Blackhawks’ opening game

Kristen ShiltonESPN NHL reporterOctober 10, 2023, 11:25 PM ET5 minutes of reading

Connor Bedard on NHL debut: ‘It was a lot of fun’

Connor Bedard reflects on his successful NHL debut for the Chicago Blackhawks.

Pittsburgh — Connor Bedard did everything but score a goal in his NHL debut.

The Chicago Blackhawks rookie still stole the show.

The No. 1 overall pick in the 2023 draft lived up to the billing, recording his first NHL point in Chicago’s 4-2 win over Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins on Tuesday night.

If the outcome of the game was surprising — the draft lottery winning Blackhawks used four different scores to come back from a 2-0 deficit to top the veteran Penguins — Bedard’s transition to the NHL was not smooth. He immediately drew attention as Chicago’s 18-year-old phenom pitted against his childhood idol in Crosby, a three-time Stanley Cup champion.

This is a very important reception for the NHL-kids. However, the outcome was not in Bedard’s favor.

“[I was] Trying to win it, I failed miserably,” he said after the game. “But it was really cool. As I mentioned he was my childhood hero. It was a lot of fun.”

Bedard didn’t let the early loss dampen his confidence. His on-ice performance has already placed him firmly in the generational talent category, and he finished the night with 21:29 ice time (leading all forwards), 5 shots, 11 shot attempts (second most in NHL debut since 2009-10) and 1 assist.

He became the youngest player to score a point in a season opener since Alexander Fargo in 2013, and the second-youngest player in Blackhawks history (after Eddie Olczyk in 1984) to score a point in a debut.

Bedard went just 2-for-13, the only faceoff that Bedard missed. That doesn’t diminish his first experience as an NHL player, which, despite the hyped few months, went by too quickly, he noted.

“It’s the moment you think about your whole life,” he said. “Now it’s already over. That part is sad.”

Fortunately for Bedard, the memories last a lifetime.

His pedigree doesn’t insulate him from all the usual NHL rookie conventions — or shield him from an obviously nervous pregame moment. Before the Blackhawks headed out for warmups, Bedard was caught frantically looking around for his missing stick — forgetting to grab one — before finally finding one in the equipment rack.

Bedard’s usual superstition was interrupted. Ordinarily he would leave a stick on the wall, an untouched knife on the floor. But he could not find one prepared and thus looked for another.

Once he got down the tunnel, it was only Bedard and fellow freshman Kevin Gorczynski who took separate laps of the ice for a minute before their teammates joined them. Neither player wore a helmet — which is mandatory in warmups for players entering the league after the 2019-20 season — but Gorczynski insisted that “you only get one rookie lap,” adding that other Blackhawks encouraged the decision.

If anyone can relate to what Bedard is going through on Tuesday, it’s Gorczynski. Bedard may have been hard on himself for not excelling in every aspect of the game on one night, but Gorczynski would encourage him to give himself some grace.

“Like the rest of us, he’s going to learn and work,” Gorczynski said. “That’s the scary thing, he’s still learning. He’s only 18. He’s still going to get better.”

Bedard had the same mindset, making the most of his ample ice time throughout the game, both 5-on-5 and with the man advantage. He was a fixture on the Blackhawks’ first power-play unit and kept Chicago past Pittsburgh with a pair of nice keep-ins and a whistle-blowing one-timer with more than 90 seconds left on their opening drive. Netminder Tristan Jarry.

While Bedard has been an obvious focal point for the Blackhawks (and, obviously, the Penguins), he’s not the only one worthy of attention. After falling behind 2-0 in the second period by Brian Rust and Crosby, Chicago used a combined effort to get past Pittsburgh. Bedard was on the ice when Crosby hit, and that may have prompted him to get on the scoresheet.

After Crosby’s tally, Bedard, who was already creating chances of his own around the net, picked off an assist on linemate Ryan Donato’s score that gave Pittsburgh a 2-1 lead heading into the third period. Bedard got his assist, though, with a strong zone entry to set up a long streak in Pittsburgh’s end that allowed Chicago to wear down the Penguins.

Bedard had never struggled to find the back of the net before. He collected 71 goals and 143 points in 57 games with the Western Hockey League’s Regina Bats last season, matching the 100-point campaign he produced the previous year. It might just be a matter of time before he racks up NHL numbers. However, Chicago needed depth to beat the Penguins.

After Donato opened the floodgates, Chicago Cole Goodman tied the game at 2 with a goal, followed by Jason Dickinson’s game-winner late in the third period. Nick Foligno added the insurance blank from there. And Petr Mrazek’s exceptional 38-save showing gave the Blackhawks every chance to rally.

“It just shows our mentality,” Bedard said of Chicago’s effort. “We’ve seen a lot throughout camp. Guys want to win so bad.”

It was a victory that Bedard was most pleased with on his debut. The entire game felt like the start of a promising new chapter for Chicago hockey — and it was, in every way.

“It’s awesome for our team to come back like we did,” Bedard said. “I think you remember [the night] With a little taste in your mouth when you win.”

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