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NASHVILLE — The wait for Connor Bedard in Chicago isn’t really that different from what he’s faced in Regina over the past year or two. The glare of the spotlight. Press conference. The unrelenting pressure of almost comical expectations. The fate of a franchise and the weight of history.
Only the spotlight is too bright. There will be more reporters. The pressure and expectations are very high. Ownership and history can be very heavy.
“It could be a lot,” Jonathan Toews said.
Precious few knew what Bedard was going through. In 2015, Connor McDavid was not a teenage hockey player known for such hype. Sidney Crosby in 2005 Never had a teenage hockey player shouldered so much. But Toews knows. Toews gets it. Yes, he was ranked no. 3 became the Big Pack, not No. 1. And yes, Bedard returned to the University of North Dakota for a year rather than going straight to the NHL as he would have liked.
But Toews knows what it’s like to be the center of attention. Chicago must be a wunderkind. You put a franchise on your back and expect to carry it through more than a decade of glory, everlasting memories, and financial setbacks.
What advice does Toews have for Bedard, who the Blackhawks draft first in Nashville on Wednesday night?
Keep it simple.
“There’s probably a lot of things, if I think about it, but the No. 1 thing I would say is keep hockey No. 1,” Toews said. “Keep your life simple. Nowadays, especially, it’s easy to get distracted. It’s easy to adopt a lifestyle – because your lifestyle can change very quickly. There are too many people and too many things to grab your attention. Keep it very simple. Focus on hockey. If you do that, things will improve, your game will be better, and you’ll get where you need to go.
Amazingly, that was never an issue for Toews, given the mannerisms of Mr. Serious (later, Captain Sirius) that marked Toews’ early 20s. Getting rich at 19 didn’t change him much. Sure, he enjoyed the same royal treatment as any other player after a game on the Chicago couch, but Toews didn’t chase the perks and glitz and social connections that come with instant fame and instant wealth. Certainly not in the beginning.
Like any adult, Toews reflects on his life and sees things he wishes he could have done differently. His freshman season was not one of them.
“When I look back, one of the things I realized was that I wouldn’t change,” Toews said. “There are times when you learn how to balance your life a little bit and you can really enjoy the different aspects of living in Chicago and playing for the Blackhawks. But it was a big lifestyle change for me at that age. I was lucky my parents kept me grounded and focused on the important things. The best ones. It only focused on hockey.
Bedard didn’t even turn 18 until July 17. He really is a child. So he will not get many temptations like money and big city. Strangely enough, his youth should help him focus and focus on a difficult task – now living up to the extraordinary hype that has reasonably accompanied him over the years.
As Dawes says, the fun of fame and fortune awaits. But for now hockey is life. It should be.
“You want to be a professional hockey player and then you can’t do it all,” Toews said. “You have to be so good at one thing that even if it’s very difficult, you have to learn how to put things, different aspects (of life) away. If you keep things simple, it’s easier to enjoy life and be grateful for what you have. Even if it comes at a price, of course. .
McDavid is the so-called first “generation” talent of the social media age to hit the hockey world. The expectations he faced were absolutely staggering. That he not only imitated them but managed them to the utmost is a testament to his singular greatness.
But outside noise never bothered McDavid. It was loud enough inside his own head.
“I put more pressure on myself than the expectations or the outside,” McDavid said. “It all came from within, and I’m definitely the same way as (Petard).”
McDavid skated a bit with Bedard at the BioSteel camp and was impressed. He said Bedard wasn’t looking for any words of wisdom, but if he did, McDavid’s advice was nothing short of profound: Keep doing what you’re doing. Stop to smell the roses once in a while.
“He seems to have a good head on his shoulders,” McDavid said. “He knows what he’s doing. I’d tell him to enjoy it. It goes by fast. Enjoy all the moments you’re going through.”
Four years into his career, Jack Hughes is one of the game’s greatest players, a breathtaking and dynamic No. 1 center for the fast-growing New Jersey Devils. But when he entered the league, he was a young kid who scored just seven goals as a rookie in 61 games. There were flashes, sure, but he wasn’t quite the finished product. There are few people at that age.
Bedard is an inch shorter than Hughes, but has the stocky and sturdy figure of a 30-year-old man. This will help him adapt to the rigors of the NHL.
Hughes has no doubt that Bedard will be an absolute star. However, his advice is wise: Be patient.
“Everybody’s different,” Hughes said. “Everyone’s path is different. He’s a great player and I’m sure he’ll come and do better next year. He’s going to be a great kid and he’s going to do great. But this is a tough league. It’s the best league in the world, so it’s a challenge, of course.
Google “Alexis Lafrenière” and “Generation” and you’ll find plenty of hits. After posting back-to-back monster seasons in the QMJHL, Lafrenière looks set to be the next big thing. When the New York Rangers won the 2020 lottery, after an Ernst & Young employee threw ping-pong balls into a Rangers ball, fans around the league shouted (only half jokingly) that they had been rigged in favor of the big market. Team (sound familiar?). Lafrenier A Big deal.
Well, three years into his NHL career, Lafreniere has 47 goals and 44 assists. He’s a respectable third baseman, and the Rangers are mulling their options when he hits restricted free agency. He’s just 21. He can still become the player everyone thought he would be.
Or he might not.
Lafreniere’s advice? Isolate yourself. Especially if you’re not a 40-goal scorer like Auston Matthews or a 100-point scorer like Sidney Crosby. There is no chance that Bedard is the next Alexandre Daigle or Neil Yakubov. He is as certain as things can be. But it is crucial to remember that a mediocre beginning does not predict a mediocre future.
“It’s not easy,” LaFreniere said. “Obviously, it’s (a) very good league. There are a lot of good players. You have to be patient, keep working on your game and try to enjoy being here. We’re very lucky to play in this league, so you have to enjoy it and work on your game. You’ll be fine.”
Nico Hischier had a lot of fun as an NHL rookie. He had a solid start to his career with 20 goals and 32 assists, played in all 82 games, and his New Jersey Devils made the playoffs — no small feat for a team that was bad enough to be drafted first overall.
But his scoring and points dropped in each of the next three seasons. And the Devils missed the playoffs in each of his next four seasons. A year later, he’s the captain of one of the most exciting teams in the league with its first playoff series win.
Hischier’s advice? Think less about yourself and more about your team.
That’s music to Bedard’s ears, who talks hokey as carefully as other artists work in clay or watercolors. Another former no. 1 pick Taylor Hall, Bedard is still walking one of the worst streaks any top pick has ever had in the salary cap era. But individual success is team success and team success is individual success.
“Focus on the team, and try to eliminate outside noise,” Hisier said. “You have to pay attention to what the organization says and work hard. It’s a tough league. When you come in as an 18-year-old, you’re still a kid, you’re playing against guys. So it’s definitely not easy. … Listen to the team, not the noise from the outside. What’s yours? They want the best.
Because that’s what’s best for them.
Owen Power doesn’t feel like giving Bedard much advice. Bedard can’t really use anything. The big Buffalo defenseman played in eight NHL games during his draft year after returning to Michigan for his sophomore season. When he finally made it to the NHL this past season, the hype train had long since left the station. And he’s almost 20, not 18. That gap year between his draft and the actual start of his NHL career is usually very subdued to the pressure surrounding a great selection.
And power flourished.
“It helped a lot,” Power said. “Getting older and stronger to get that extra year of experience under my belt. Going to a team (Sabres) with a lot of top players helped me a lot. It kind of allowed me to sneak in and go out and play.
Nothing Bedard does next season will be under wraps. No flying under the radar, no quiet evenings in the ring. He will receive less grace and mercy than any rookie. He will continue to be on national television in two countries. Every layup will be celebrated, every turnover scrutinized. No player in the history of the Chicago Blackhawks faced what Bedard would face at age 18. Not even Doves. Not even close.
But seemingly everyone who’s ever met the kid says he’s built for it — mentally and physically. So Power’s advice?
Be yourself. Because it’s that good.
“He’s in a different situation than me, with all the publicity surrounding him,” Power said. “But he’s a good kid and he’s got a good head on his shoulders and he’s very focused on hockey. Outside noise does not frighten him. According to him, that shouldn’t be a problem. He will do well. “
(Top photo: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)