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Bedard talks McDavid and the challenge of becoming hockey’s next great

Most highly-touted B.C. prospect ever prepares for his first NHL training camp
Connor Bedard says he’s not Connor McDavid and wants to carve his own path as a player. Bedard, Chicago Blackhawks first round draft pick, makes his way to the stage during the first round of the NHL hockey draft, in Nashville, Tenn., Wednesday, June 28, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-George Walker IV

Connor Bedard says he’s not Connor McDavid and wants to carve his own path as a player.

But the 18-year-old from North Vancouver, B.C., won’t enter the NHL thinking McDavid’s lofty numbers are out of reach.

Bedard, the most anticipated prospect since McDavid after the Chicago Blackhawks drafted him first overall in June, has been training with the Edmonton Oilers superstar this week in Halifax at the NHL’s BioSteel camp — a pre-season training competition between 30 top NHL players.

“Obviously (McDavid’s stats are on) a different level,” said Bedard on a video call Tuesday. “I don’t want to say (it’s a level) humans can’t achieve — you never want to be like ‘I can’t do this.’ I don’t really think that mindset is that great.

“He’s kind of the pinnacle right now and you’re like, ‘this guy’s the best … how can I get closer to him?’”

Bedard singled out McDavid as a player who’s given him a lot of good advice heading into his first NHL season.

“He says a lot of good stuff,” said Bedard. “He’s obviously one of if not the best player in the world. So that’s someone that I’ve been able to kind of be a sponge with and ask some questions.”

McDavid is one of the few people who might understand what it’s like to be in Bedard’s shoes considering the path they both took to the NHL.

Both players were granted exceptional status to enter their respective Canadian junior leagues early, McDavid in the Ontario Hockey League and Bedard in the Western Hockey League.

And each of them had historic draft years. McDavid registered 120 points (41 goals, 76 assists) in 47 games with the Erie Otters — a 2.55 point-per-game pace. Bedard, meanwhile, produced at a 2.5 point-per-game clip with 143 points (71 goals, 72 assists) in 57 games for the Regina Pats last season.

In international junior competition, Bedard has a significant edge in terms of production with 36 points in 16 world junior games while McDavid totalled 15 points in 14 games.

But matching McDavid in the NHL is a different story.

Through eight NHL seasons, the Oilers captain has 850 points in 569 games, with five Art Ross Trophies as the league’s top scorer and three Hart Trophies as league MVP under his belt. And he’s only 26 years old.

“He’s obviously unbelievable,” said Bedard. “And you can barely talk about his stats because they’re so ridiculous. But for me, it’s just kind of trying to be my own player and be the best that I can be.”

Despite the comparisons — which were further sparked on Monday when BioSteel posted a video of the two training side-by-side to social media — Bedard says his love for the game helps him block out any outside noise.

“I think for myself and (McDavid) as well we both just kind of love the game so much,” said Bedard. “There’s obviously pressure from the outside, and I want to do well, I’m hard on myself and I expect a lot from myself.

“But I think the pressure goes away in my mind when you’re just doing what you love, and obviously hoping to be playing in the in the league I’ve dreamed of playing in for 18 years now.”

The five-foot-10, 185-pound Bedard, with a blistering shot and remarkable skill, has signed his entry-level NHL contract with Chicago.

He’ll be the face of a new era after the departures of two franchise cornerstones who led the Blackhawks to Stanley Cups in 2010, 2013 and 2015.

Patrick Kane, the No. 1 overall pick in 2007 and the second-highest scorer in Blackhawks history, was traded to the New York Rangers after 16 years in Chicago at last season’s deadline. Though he’s currently a free agent, rumours aren’t pointing toward a Chicago return.

Jonathan Toews, Chicago’s captain for 15 years, is taking a year off from hockey after the Blackhawks announced last season they would not re-sign him.

Despite their departures, Chicago general manager Kyle Davidson made some moves this off-season to surround Bedard with some experience, signing 18-season NHL veteran Corey Perry, and trading for 1,000-game player Nick Foligno and 2010 first-overall pick Taylor Hall.

Bedard says he’s gotten the chance to get to know some of his new teammates and receives text messages from Foligno “every two weeks” to check in on how he’s doing.

“I’ve heard from every single person that has mentioned him that he’s one of the best people you’ll ever meet,” said Bedard.

“I’m pretty excited (to have the veterans),” he added. “I think it’s good for me that those guys have been in the league so long and (are) experienced, you kind of learn from them and have them to kind of help out with things.”

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