Connor Bedard prefers to let his on-ice game — rather than his mouth — do his talking, but one comment he made this past weekend in Arizona raised eyebrows.
“I want to get in more battles and be a little more physical,” Bedard said Sunday. “Not that that’s fully my game, but that’s when I’m playing my best.”
The mental picture that quote conjured up seemed perplexing on the surface. Why should the Blackhawks’ ultra-talented rookie — the teenager who’s already their most dangerous shooter and playmaker — waste his time trying to be physical? Considering he’s 5-10, how much impact would that even make?
But it didn’t seem like he was referring to dishing out big hits or scuffling with opponents. He can continue deferring those responsibilities to Nick Foligno, Reese Johnson and company.
Instead, Bedard seemed to be referring more to using his quickness, elusiveness and elite stick-handling to grab and maneuver the puck in tighter spaces and also to use his strength and low center of gravity — because he’s undeniably jacked, no matter his height — to fend off contact more often.
After all, there’s very little space in the NHL — much less than he was accustomed to in junior hockey. Even the most skilled, least gritty players must learn how to succeed in those tight quarters. Over time, many come to realize that body-on-body contact actually helps get them more involved in all aspects of the game.
And given the Hawks’ relative lack of talent around Bedard and the team’s widespread difficulties winning puck battles, it probably would behoove him to find ways to get himself more puck possession in addition to being dynamic once in possession.
Bedard believed he did a better job of being more physically involved Friday against the Golden Knights — highlighted by an impressive reverse hit on Jonathan Marchessault — and that trend carried over to the first period Monday against the Coyotes.
During his first shift right after the opening faceoff, he spun off a hit from Arizona’s JJ Moser to stay upright before finding a hole in the Coyotes’ weak-side defensive coverage, receiving a clever pass from Kevin Korchinski and ripping a shot into the corner.
During his third shift, he supported Philipp Kurashev in a board battle, poking away with his stick to help keep the puck in the Hawks’ offensive zone. Seconds later, he knocked Sean Durzi along the blue line to force a turnover, allowing the Hawks to regain possession in the neutral zone.
And during his fifth shift, he fended off some aggressive contact and pressure by Travis Boyd and Logan Cooley just inside the offensive blue line, managing to keep the puck in the zone by sending it toward Seth Jones.
The rest of the game was much worse — the Hawks’ 8-1 loss was their biggest margin of defeat since March 2017 — and Bedard’s play certainly dropped off in the second and third periods, mirroring the rest of the team. That kind of unpredictable inconsistency often plagues rookies as they adjust to this level.
The other good news is Bedard’s goal-scoring drought through the first two weeks of his career now appears to be ancient history. He has scored in three of his last four games and would have a four-game goal streak if not for the Bruins’ offside challenge last week.
Bedard continues to lead the Hawks in shot rate and scoring-chance production (not only overall but also during five-on-five play), and now he leads them in goals, too.
Heading into a couple of practices back in Chicago this week, the Hawks’ embarrassment about their performance Monday will likely linger for a while. About Bedard, however, they need not worry — even if he’s not the best at articulating his objectives.