April 18, 2024

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What can Connor Beddard expect as the #1 NHL Draft pick? Toews, McDavid, and others offer advice

Athletic has live coverage of 2023 NHL Draft

NASHVILLE – What awaits Conor Bedard in Chicago isn’t much different from what he’s faced at Regina in the past year or two. The glare of the lights. Crowd of reporters. The unrelenting pressure of almost comical expectations. The fate of the franchise and the weight of history.

Only the lights will be brighter. The number of correspondents will be much more. The pressure and expectations will be much higher. The franchise and history will be much heavier.

“It could be a lot,” said Jonathan Toews.

Precious few people know what Bedard is up to. Not since Connor McDavid in 2015 has a teen hockey player been known to make such noise. Not since Sidney Crosby in 2005 has a teenage hockey player put up with so much. But Toews knows. Toews gets it. Yes, he was No. 3 in 2006, not No. 1. And yes, he did go back to the University of North Dakota for a year instead of going straight into the NHL, as Bedard does.

But Toews knows what it feels like to be the center of attention. To be Chicago Genius. For a franchise that straps itself to your back and expects you to carry it to more than a decade of glory, everlasting memories, and financial windfall.

So what’s Toews’ advice for Bédard, who the Blackhawks will draft first overall in Nashville on Wednesday night?

Keep it simple.

“It’s probably a lot of things, if you think about it, but the number one thing I would say is keep No. 1 hockey,” Toyos said. “Keep your life simple. Nowadays, especially, it’s easy to get distracted. It’s easy to get caught up in a lifestyle — because your lifestyle is going to change very quickly. There are so many people and so many things trying to get your attention. Just keep it really simple.” Focus on hockey. If you do that, things will progress, your game will improve, and you’ll get where you want to go.”

Unsurprisingly, given the behavior of Mr. Sirius (later, Captain Sirius) who distinguished himself in the early 1920s, this was not a problem for Toews. Getting rich at 19 didn’t change him much. Sure, he enjoyed the royal treatment in the Chicago Cut game after game like any other player, but Toews didn’t chase the perks, glamor, and social accoutrements that come with instant fame and instant fortune. Certainly not early.

Like any adult, Toews reflects on his career and sees things he wishes he’d done differently. His rookie season is not one of them.

“When I look back, this is one of the things I got right, and I wouldn’t change it,” Toyos said. “There are times later where 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 huge lifestyle change at that age. I was lucky, my parents were great at keeping me humble and keeping me focused on things.” mission. And that was just focused on hockey.”

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Bédard did not turn 18 as of 17 July. He’s literally a kid. So many temptations that come with money and a big city wouldn’t even be available to him. Oddly enough, his youth should help keep him focused and focused on the daunting task at hand — living up to the extraordinary hype that has justifiably accompanied him for years now.

As Toews says, the joys of fame and riches await. But for now hockey is life. must be.

“You want to be a professional hockey player, and then you can’t do everything,” Toyos said. “You have to be really good at one thing, and you just have to learn how to get away with things, different aspects of (life), even when it’s really hard. When you keep things simple, it’s easy to enjoy life and be grateful for what you have. Although it certainly comes at a price.”

McDavid was the first “generation” talent of the social media era to hit the hockey world. The expectations he faced were absolutely amazing. That he could not only live up to them, but far surpass them is a testament to his singular greatness.

But the outside noise never bothered MacDavid. It was high enough inside his head.

“I put more pressure on myself than any of the prospects or whatever was out there,” McDavid said. “It all came from within, and I’m sure (Bedard) did the same.”

McDavid skated with Bedard for a bit at Camp BioSteel, and came away impressed. Bédard did not seek any wise words, he said, but if he did, McDavid’s advice is not profound: keep doing what you’re doing. Just stop and smell the roses once in a while.

“He seems to have a good head on his shoulders,” said McDavid. “He seems to know what he’s doing. I’ll just tell him to enjoy it. It goes by fast. Just enjoy all the moments you’re having.”

Connor McDavid. (Dave Sandford/NHLI via Getty Images)

Four years into his career, Jack Hughes is one of the best players in the game, an amazing and dynamic No. 1 center for the rapidly rising New Jersey Devils. But when he entered the league, he was a scrawny little kid who scored just seven goals in 61 games as a starter. There were flashes for sure, but it wasn’t a finished product yet. Few are at this age.

Bédard is about an inch shorter than Hughes, but he has the build of a 30-year-old, thick and sturdy. This will help him adjust to the rigors of the NHL that often wear down a rookie.

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Hughes has no doubts that Bedard will be an absolute superstar. However, his advice is wise: be patient.

“Everyone is different,” Hughes said. “Everyone’s path is different. He’s a great player and I’m sure he’ll come next year and do well. He’ll be the best kid and he’ll do well. But it’s a tough league. It’s the best league in the world, so it’s definitely a challenge.”

Google “Alexis Lafrenière” and “Jill” and you’ll find a lot of hits. After posting back-to-back monster seasons in the QMJHL, Lafrenière was going to be the next big thing. When the New York Rangers won the 2020 lottery after an Ernst & Young employee pulling ping-pong balls dropped a Rangers ball, fans across the league (only half of them in jest) screamed that it was rigged in favor of a big-market team (sound familiar?). It was Lafreniere Big deal.

Well, after three years of his career in the National Hockey League, Lafreniere has recorded 47 goals and 44 assists. He’s a respected third-row player, and the Rangers weigh their options as he lands on restricted free agency. At only 21 years old, he may become the player everyone thought he would be, assuming he would be, they sure will be.

Or maybe not.

Lafreniere’s advice? Isolate yourself. Especially if you’re not a 40-goal out-of-the-gate player like Auston Matthews, or a 100-goal guy like Sidney Crosby. There is almost no chance that Bedard is Alexander Daigle or Neil Yakubov. He is confident of something like sure things. But it is important to remember that a humble beginning hardly predicts a humble future.

“It won’t be easy,” Lafrenière said. “Obviously it’s (a) really good league. There’s a lot of good players. You have to be patient and keep working on your game and try to enjoy being here. We’re really lucky to play in this league, so you just have to enjoy it and work on your game. It’ll get better.”

Niko Hischer has had a lot of fun as a rookie in the NHL. He had a very strong start to his career with 20 goals and 32 assists, played in all 82 games, and the New Jersey Devils made the playoffs—no small feat for a team that was bad enough to make the first draft overall.

But his goal and point totals dropped in each of the next three seasons. The Devils missed the playoffs in his next four seasons. One year later, he was captain of one of the league’s hottest teams, with his first playoff series victory under his belt.

Hischer’s advice? Think less of yourself, and more of your team.

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This will be music to the ears of Bédard, who already works at hockey and talks like other artists who work in clay or watercolor. Even with the addition of former first-choice Taylor Hall, Bédard still marched into one of the worst formations anyone has joined in the salary-fixing era. But individual success means team success, and team success means individual success.

“Keep your focus on the team, and try to cut out all the outside noise,” Hischer said. “You just have to keep focused and work hard on what the organization says. It’s a tough league. If you’re 18, you’re still like a kid, and you’re playing against men. So it’s definitely not easy. … listen to the team, not All outside noise. They want the best for you.”

Because it’s also what’s best for them.

Owen Bauer doesn’t feel he has much advice for Bédard. Nothing Bedard could really use, anyway. The Big Buffalo defenseman played in only eight NHL games in his draft year after returning to Michigan for his sophomore season. When he finally made it to the NHL Forever last season, the hype train had long left the station. And he was about 20 years old, not barely 18. That one-year gap between his draft and the true start of his NHL career has dampened a lot of the pressure that usually surrounds a top pick.

And strength flourished.

“It helped a lot,” Bauer said. “Just to have that extra year of experience under my belt, get older and get stronger. Something that helped me a lot also was going on a (Sabers) team with a lot of quality players. It kind of allowed me to go in there undercover, just to go out and play.” “.

Nothing Bédard does next season will be undercover. There will be no under-the-radar flying, no quiet evenings on the rink. He will receive less mercy and grace than any neophyte might receive. It will be on national television in two countries constantly. Every cock will be celebrated, every turnover will be scrutinized. No player in Chicago Blackhawks history has faced what Bedard will face at the age of 18. Not even Tauz. Not even close.

But everyone who’s met the baby seems to say he was made for this—mentally as much as he is physically. So power tip?

be yourself. Because this is very good.

“He’s in a different position than I was, with all the hype around him,” Bauer said. “But he’s a good kid with a good head on his shoulders and he’s very focused on hockey. Outside noise doesn’t bother him. For him, it shouldn’t be a problem. He’ll do a great job.”

(Top photo: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)