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Blackhawks Beyond the Numbers: Connor Bedard and Instant Success

There was a generational can’t-miss who started slow out of the gates. On how Jack Hughes could provide a lesson or two for Connor Bedard as he begins his NHL career.

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The comparable for Chicago Blackhawks forward Connor Bedard has often been Connor McDavid or Auston Matthews. But what about Jack Hughes? Hockey Prospecting’s Bryon Bader has an interesting side-by-side look:

Bader is known for his in-depth analysis. Hughes also had quite the fanfare when he was slotted to be the top pick in 2019 NHL Draft. The motto “Lose for Hughes” became a thing, and wouldn’t you know it, the team in the third spot for the lottery ended up getting the top pick as well.

Hughes’ First Season Didn’t Go As Planned

To say that anyone thought the top player in the draft would only get 21 points, with seven of those being goals is a fib. It was well documented and as it always goes with top picks, over analyzed. An article from CBC in January 2020 attributed his struggles to the pressure. The other notes:

  • Hughes went without a point in his first six games
  • The struggles of Hughes and the team had far reaching effects. Head coach John Hynes was fired, current Bedard teammate Taylor Hall was shipped off, and then GM Ray Shero was axed, too

Of course, the Blackhawks situation is different. First, the Blackhawks are in a full rebuild and were tanking hard to get a chance at Bedard. The Devils were a year removed from a playoff appearance before a disastrous 2018-19 season saw them tumble to third best draft odds. A slow start to the 2019-20 season which followed an offseason of spending made quite the itchy trigger finger when it came to firing people. First Hynes, then Shero.

So the Devils, who went the antithesis of the Blackhawks rebuild, made changes at the top.

In that regard, it wasn’t exactly the same situation that Bedard is walking into. Hughes had playoff hopes riding on his back as well. Bedard is only being tasked with growing and developing his game at the NHL level.

Are Hughes and Bedard Comparable?

Go back and read noted Devils fan and ESPN writer Greg Wyshynski’s article with Emily Kaplan’s from 2020. He labels Hughes as a generational talent. That one certainly resonates as Blackhawks fans are banking on the same with Bedard.

The pandemic altered 2021 season saw Hughes improve his goal and points totals. 2022-23 was another rise, this time with a 20-goal season (26) and a 25-point jump.

The breakout season was last season, a dazzling 99 point campaign with 43 goals. It’s the Hughes so many had been looking for. It just took some time.

Both described as generational, the difference may very well be the psychological side of what New Jersey’s expectations were versus Chicago’s. But it’s a side that Bedard seemingly has needed to handle since being granted exceptional status in the Western Hockey League.

He’s even addressed it.

“I’m a normal person in the end,” Bedard said.  “That’s something, you have a little more noise around you or whatever, people may forget that a little bit. I’m a human being, I’m still a 17-year-old kid. There are responsibilities that come along with the noise and attention and stuff, and I’m aware of that, but in the room, I’m just one of the guys and in life and with my family.”

The lesson here is that even Hughes, tabbed as a generational talent, had to find his way before finally breaking out. Bedard is also generational, but has had the spotlight encircling him before he could even drive a car.

The pressure will be there, albeit in a different fashion. But even if there are roadblocks for Bedard at times–which inevitably there will–Hughes shows that it can be a mere bump in the road to stardom.

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