Connor Bedard played in his first pre-season game with Chicago on Thursday night, and fans of the Original Six franchise were ready.
So was Bedard, who had two assists in Chicago’s 2-1 overtime win over the St. Louis Blues.
“I felt pretty good and comfortable and stuff, but I think I could do a lot better,” Bedard said. “I don’t know if there was a surprise. Obviously less room, but that’s nothing I didn’t expect, so just kind of get used to it here.”
The 18-year-old centre made a smooth pass to set up Andreas Athanasiou’s goal at 4:02 of the extra period. Bedard dished from the right side, and Athanasiou flipped in a backhander.
BEDARD TO ATHANASIOU FOR THE OT WINNER! 🚨 <a href=”https://t.co/aNNnCd5281″>pic.twitter.com/aNNnCd5281</a>
Bedard also picked up an assist on Philipp Kurashev’s second-period goal. He finished with five shots and 21:42 of ice time.
The two lower levels of the United Center were mostly full for the exhibition matchup. The team closed off the upper deck.
Bedard’s No. 98 jersey was everywhere as fans walked along the United Center concourses prior to the opening faceoff — won by Bedard. Even more fans were contemplating a Bedard jersey — at $250 US for an authentic version and $200 for a replica — at the main team store and smaller stands.
Jaime Faulkner, the president of business operations for Chicago, said the team is already seeing a bottom-line boost from Bedard off the ice.
She said in an email that the team expects to sell up to 10 per cent more tickets overall than in 2022-23 and has nearly doubled full and partial season-ticket sales.
In the first three months of the team’s fiscal 2023-24 season, the team has doubled merchandise sales compared to the same timeframe in 2022-23. Of the “thousands” of Bedard jerseys sold, almost 85 per cent have been the pricier authentics, Faulkner said.
Chicago went 26-49-7 last season, and then used a surprise win in the NHL draft lottery to take the highly touted Bedard with the No. 1 overall pick. Bedard, who is from North Vancouver, won’t play in an official game until Chicago opens the regular season at Pittsburgh on Oct. 10.
He has been compared to Connor McDavid and Sidney Crosby, and he is the FanDuel Sportsbook favourite for the Calder Trophy for NHL rookie of the year.
“I mentioned before, he’s not slipping into the league unnoticed or unknown,” Richardson said. “So people are ready for him, which is going to present some challenges for him.”
“But it also gives him an opportunity where people are going to try to overplay him,” Richardson added. “Everybody knows him as a shooter, but he can really make plays and see the ice.”
Bedard got his first real test Thursday night against an opposing lineup made up of mostly NHL-calibre players.
“I was like talking to my dad today and I’m, like, `I get to play in the United Center and that’s pretty unreal,”‘ Bedard said. “I think that’s big to see the fans and everything, and then play against a lot guys that are trying to make the NHL and guys who have played in the NHL and stuff.”