WASHINGTON | New York Islanders prospect William Dufour and Edmonton Oilers prospect Xavier Bourgault have a smile on their face as they share a story about the NHL’s next big star, Connor Bedard.
“We only had two blocks to go, but there were supporters running behind the bus,” Dufour said. A man even tried to enter inside the building when we got off the bus, but we quickly stopped him thanks to the presence of a policeman. »
“They weren’t looking for my autograph, but Bédard’s,” Bourgault added.
Supporters, more or less. In this specific case, we are talking more about autograph hunters. But that scene took place on a quiet Tuesday morning in the heat and humidity of Arlington.
This Virginia town has nothing to do with the mecca of hockey. It’s where the Washington Capitals built their training facility and it’s also where Upper Deck invited 34 of the NHL’s top prospects to take pictures.
At the Westin, the hotel where the young players reside, a dozen collectors have invaded the lobby sofas since the day before the event in the hope of crossing paths with the first of the class from the last NHL Draft in Nashville.
“That’s been the reality for Connor for a long time,” said defenseman Stanislav Svozil, Bedard’s teammate in Regina for the past two seasons and Columbus Blue Jackets prospect. He is never quiet. I was not surprised to see this today. In Regina, there were always people asking for his autograph and it was the same story when we played on the road. »
In the shadow of his famous teammate in Regina, Svozil still had 78 points (11 goals, 67 assists) in 78 games last year with the Pats. He will make his professional debut this year, most likely with the Cleveland Monsters of the AHL.
It has already been written hundreds of times. Bédard will be the NHL’s next strong face. He will follow in the footsteps of other prodigies of recent years, Connor McDavid, Auston Matthews, Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin.
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Always calm and poised in front of the media, Bédard is undeterred by all the attention he receives.
“It’s not that crazy,” he replied. I get used to this reality. I have no difficulty living. I do not change my daily life. I don’t attach too much importance to what people can say about me. I focus on my own expectations and those of my teammates. »
“I want to be the best hockey player I can be,” he continued. I like hockey. For me, outside noise does not represent an additional pressure. It’s just a reality. »
Debut against Crosby
On October 10, Bédard will take his first steps in the Chicago Blackhawks uniform. The Hawks will visit Sidney Crosby and the Penguins in Pittsburgh.
After a cliché response claiming that he does not yet have his locker in the Blackhawks locker room, number 98 admitted that this first game will have a special symbolism.
“I’m focused on next camp with the Blackhawks. If I manage to win a position in the team, I will fulfill a childhood dream. For my first match, I will have the chance to play against my idol in Sidney Crosby. He’s been in the NHL since I was born, I’ve always followed him. »
In Chicago, Bédard and the Hawks will remain a team in full reconstruction.
Kyle Davidson, the general manager, surrounded his young phenomenon by acquiring veterans like Corey Perry, Nick Foligno and Taylor Hall.
“Perry is an NHL legend,” Bédard said with a smile on his face. I have the feeling other teams hate to play him, but he’s the type of player you want in a team. »
In addition to Hall, Bedard will also be able to take advice from another former 2010 first overall pick from the Edmonton Oilers.
“I know Taylor won’t hesitate to talk to me,” he replied. He’s been in the NHL for a long time and he’s been through a lot. But above all, it will have an impact for our team. »