Connor Bedard, the first overall pick in the 2023 NHL Draft, made his debut for the Chicago Blackhawks last week. As he skated toward center ice for his first puck drop in the NHL, he stood opposite one of the sport’s greatest all-time players, Sidney Crosby.
“Hey Sid, welcome back for another season,” veteran NHL official Kelly Sutherland said before turning to Bedard.
“Connor, welcome to the NHL, man.”
At just 18 years old, Bedard is already being hailed as a generational talent and the next big thing. In just four games with the Blackhawks, he’s already had two assists and one goal and averaged 21:13 in ice time per game.
Former NHL veteran defenseman Mark Streit, who played alongside Crosby during the 2016-2017 season when the Pittsburgh Penguins won their fifth Stanley Cup, spoke with Fox News Digital about Bedard’s potential.
“I don’t know him as a guy, but just seeing what his skill set is, how good he is and how he performed in the first two games, it’s incredible,” Streit said. “And the good thing there is, too, like he has some veteran guys around him that can kind of guide him and tell him from their experiences and help him out. So, he’s not alone. He has a good supporting cast and even a really good coaching staff that has the experience.”
Streit said he believes the hype surrounding Bedard is well earned, adding he believes the young player has a bright future in the league.
“In the past, we always had those kinds of players, too. You know, you have it with (Connor) McDavid a few years back. What he did in his first seasons in the NHL, incredible. (Auston) Matthews, so many players that came in and everybody said, ‘They’re huge talents. They’re going to dominate the league,’ and they actually did it.”
Streit said he “admires” young players that come into the league and perform well despite the overwhelming “pressure.” Those are the players, Streit says, who win Cups.
“At the end of the day, they’re on the ice, they do what they love and they just play hockey. And that’s the way it’s supposed to be. Somehow you got to try to block the noise and everything that’s going on and all the media attention and the fans going crazy and all the jerseys in the stands. At the end of the day, once the puck drops, you just play. And I think the guys that can do that the best, they will do well, and they will perform and they will win Stanley Cups.”
Bedard facing off against Crosby at center ice in his NHL debut was a poetic scene of players from different generations with the same level of expectation when they first entered the league. It’s a moment Bedard surely won’t forget, Streit suggested.
“You know Sid started out when he was 18. He played with Mario Lemieux. I mean, that must have been unbelievable. And I think every player has that story. Your first game you have those heroes that you’ve been following all your life and then, all of a sudden, you play with him or against him. It’s incredible. And it’s so exciting. And those are moments that you will never forget.”
Streit spoke from experience.
His first experience with the NHL was when he traveled to the U.S. at 14 and saw a San Jose Sharks game. He would go on to make a name for himself in his native Switzerland in the mid-90s and eventually caught the attention of the NHL after playing in the top tier of the Swiss league. However, after a brief stint in the AHL, he returned to Switzerland.
At 26 years old, he was drafted by the Montreal Canadiens. He had a successful career as a two-way defenseman, playing for the New York Islanders, the Philadelphia Flyers and the Penguins.
“I was collecting cards and jerseys and posters of those guys, and all of a sudden you face them – the Chris Chelios, the Nick Lindstrom and all those players that have been in the league for so long and so successful and winning Stanley Cups.
“And, all of a sudden, you’re in the mix. And that’s the beauty about the sport. And that’s why I tell every young kid, it’s all the work you put in, it pays off. I mean, those are the moments. You’re [taking] them in. You have them in your heart forever. You never forget about them, and that’s truly amazing.
“I mean, obviously playing and making a good living, that’s fine. But those moments, that’s really what makes a difference – what made it for me.”