Bedard Prepared for Debut Matchup Against Matthews and the Maple Leafs in Toronto



Bedard Prepared for Debut Matchup Against Matthews and the Maple Leafs in Toronto

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TORONTO — Connor Bedard has dedicated numerous hours of his young life meticulously studying Auston Matthews’ shot in the video room. He’s scrutinized every detail, from the release to the flex to hand positioning.

Clearly, he’s a quick study, as attested by the observations of Toronto Maple Leafs’ forward Matthews.

“He’s got a shot that’s up there with the best I’ve seen,” Matthews praised. “He’s truly something special in that aspect.

“To witness his playmaking ability, his exceptional vision on the ice, his high hockey IQ, it’s really impressive. He’s a highly formidable player out there.”

This only heightens the anticipation as Matthews and the Toronto Maple Leafs welcome Bedard and the Chicago Blackhawks to Scotiabank Arena on Monday (7 p.m. ET; SN, TVAS, NBCSCH) in what promises to be one of the standout early matchups of the NHL season. It’s a matchup that could aptly be described as mentor versus prodigy.

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Bedard Embraces the Hype Following his No. 1 Selection in the 2023 NHL Draft by the Blackhawks

When the Blackhawks chose Bedard with the top pick in the 2023 NHL Draft on June 28 in Nashville, the excitement surrounding him was palpable. Since then, the 18-year-old forward has not only met expectations but exceeded them, registering a point in each of his first three games (consisting of one goal and two assists) as he arrives in Toronto.

On the flip side, Matthews is in the midst of a historic run, becoming only the fifth player in NHL history to kick off a season with consecutive hat tricks. If he manages to secure another against the Blackhawks, he would etch his name in the annals of hockey history as the sole player to achieve three consecutive games with at least three goals at any point in a season.

Bedard is thrilled not only by Matthews’ generous remarks about his shot but also by the opportunity to compete in Toronto, a city he regards as one of the grandest stages in the sport.

“It’s fantastic,” Bedard remarked on Sunday upon learning of the praise bestowed upon him by Matthews. “I mean, I feel like he’s really set the standard for this particular shot, and he’s already got six goals in two games, so he’s clearly doing something right.

“Ever since he entered the League, he’s been someone I’ve admired and looked up to. It’s not just about the shot; it’s how he approaches the game. His completeness on the ice. His prowess in his own zone and his overall play—it’s truly something special. Sometimes, because he racks up so many goals and excels in the offensive zone, other aspects might get overlooked.

“He’s undeniably one of the League’s best, so I’m eager to face off against him

Bedard is on track to make history of his own. According to NHL Stats, he could become the first Blackhawks player since Jonathan Toews in 2007-08 to secure a point in each of his first four NHL games. The last time a No. 1 pick achieved this was in 2005-06, when both Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins and Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals accomplished the feat.

Matthews acknowledges that Bedard’s achievements are even more remarkable considering the demanding season-opening schedule facing him and the Blackhawks. They’ve faced formidable opponents like Crosby and the Penguins, Brad Marchand and the Boston Bruins, and participated in a high-profile “Hockey Night in Canada” game against the Montreal Canadiens. After their face-off against Matthews and the Maple Leafs, they’ll wrap up their road trip against Nathan MacKinnon and the Colorado Avalanche on Thursday.

Matthews, the No. 1 pick in the 2016 NHL Draft, commented on the rigorous schedule with a smile, saying, “They certainly started him off on the all-circus tour here. It’s a lot, but I think in the end, you just want to play hockey. That’s what’s most important. Being around the guys and having fun playing in the NHL, that’s obviously every kid’s dream to do in hockey.”

Bedard wholeheartedly concurs, stating, “There’s been a lot of media and a lot of attention on it, but I’m just focused on playing hockey. And of course, I’ve just enjoyed the experience of it all. It’s been great.”

Another exciting aspect for Bedard is the opportunity to face off against Maple Leafs rookie forward Fraser Minten. The two shared the ice in minor hockey in the Vancouver area and even lived together in Toronto for a few weeks this past summer.

Minten shared his enthusiasm, saying, “He sent me a text congratulating me when I made the team, which was cool. It’s nice. We grew up together; he’s a big part of my success. I’ve gotten a lot better playing with him for a couple of years. Getting to watch him, his work ethic is contagious. He helped me grow up a lot as a player and I’m thankful for his friendship right now.

“There was a buzz around him in Vancouver already when he was 11 or 12. He was playing a couple of years up. I played against him a couple of times and didn’t know how good he was. But he was dominating everybody. You never knew how good he was compared to the rest of the world who was out there, but locally he was the best player around for sure.”

When asked for advice on containing Bedard, Minten advised, “Give him as little space as possible because give him space and he’s a killer. So, keep the puck out of his hands for sure.”

Up to this point, the opposition has yet to figure out how to achieve that, at least not well enough to keep him off the score sheet.


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