The 2023-24 NHL season is in it’s final third of the regular season and, in some cases, the fate of some players and teams has become all but a formality and it is no different for the Blackhawks, with two things just about set in stone.
The first is that they will not be in the playoffs. The second is that Connor Bedard looks like the Calder Trophy winner.
All things considered, this season has been a net positive for the Blackhawks.
Bedard has been fantastic while the team still has a great chance at a second consecutive first-overall draft pick. Of those, the progression of Bedard is certainly more important.
Here is the latest and greatest on the budding superstar.
Getting a broken jaw from an open-ice hit just 39 games into a career would understandably rattle some young players.
It would be easy when returning from injury to avoid a certain level of contact as to not get knocked into another injury, but that has not been the case for Bedard.
Bedard has picked up right where he left off before his injury, returning to the ice with six points in his first three games back. Overall, he has seven points in six games since making his comeback.
The 18-year-old is back to dazzling on the ice and making defenders look silly. That is a great sign of resilience and mental toughness coming off of his first NHL injury from a big hit.
Entering this season, the hockey world knew how dominant Bedard was against 16 to 20-year-olds. But there was a bit of an unknown how he would fare against grizzled NHL veterans, some of which care less about the puck and more about the body.
Essentially, would the physicality of the NHL affect his ability to produce at the next level? Bedard very quickly answered that question with a “no”.
On one of the worst teams in hockey, the youngster has hovered around a point per game average since the very first drop of the puck this year.
If the physicality of the NHL truly affected him, we would not see the same results because he wouldn’t have the space to create.
In his young 45-game career thus far, evading opposing players and creating space has shown to be an elite aspect of his game.
Bedard’s combination of skill and hockey IQ make him elusive to the opposition. With that, it is difficult for opponents to track him down and play the body.
Bedard still has some physical growing to do. But in the meantime, he is just fine in this version of the NHL.
The Blackhawks roster is not exactly dangerous or deep. Nonetheless, it is not easy or common for an 18-year-old rookie to completely take over a team.
Players we have seen do the same in the past have gone down as all-time greats. The Blackhawks count on Bedard being of the same mold. Thus far, he certainly looks to be.
Bedard is a great ambassador of an original six team: He leads a historic franchise with 17 goals and 40 points and has done so without any sort of loud arrogance on or off the ice, and just goes about his business.
Bedard leads all Chicago forwards in ice time with nearly 20 minutes logged per game, and is crucial to their offensive production both five on five and on the power play. He has absolutely been the team’s MVP for the first, and not the last, time.
Prior to Connor Bedard’s broken jaw at the end of January, he was the odds-on favorite to win the Calder Trophy without much getting in his way.
One would think that him missing over a month would narrow the gap between himself and fellow rookies chasing him down.
If he was out longer than a month, that may have been the case. But Bedard is still the heavy favorite to bring home the Calder Trophy at -550 odds.
The next closest players to Bedard in terms of odds are Minnesota's Brock Faber at +400, followed by the Devils' Luke Hughes at +2000.
Bedard has produced more in a lesser body of work and on a worse team, so the Calder Trophy is all but a formality barring anything else unforeseen.
That is not to take away from this year’s strong rookie class with plenty of players who will be stalwarts in the NHL for years to come. That just makes Bedard's rookie campaign all the more impressive.
Odds mentioned in this article were correct at the time of writing and are subject to change.