The spotlight of the hockey world has been on Connor Bedard since he was 13 years old. The proclaimed “future of hockey” had one of the greatest junior hockey careers of all time with the WHL’s Regina Pats before being selected first overall by the Blackhawks, a pick that was the result of one of the most anticipated draft lotteries ever. Bedard has had more pressure put on him already than perhaps any prospect, ever.
Since the 18-year-old began his NHL career almost two months ago, he has been even more than advertised. His lethal scoring ability can be found in his astounding 15.5% shooting percentage. With an assist against the Wild Sunday, he extended a Blackhawks rookie record – he’s notched at least one point in nine consecutive road games. Bedard also has a point in 16 of Chicago’s 23 games so far this year. He’s on pace for more than 71 points in his rookie year. Perhaps most promising for Blackhawks fans, he’s clearly improving on a nightly basis. He’s gotten better defensively and become more physical without damaging his offensive ability.
The most impressive aspect of Bedard’s rookie-leading performance is that he’s doing these things with the roster currently in place in Chicago. With players like Taylor Hall and Andreas Athanasiou missing significant time, and Lukas Reichel not playing at the level everyone hoped, Bedard is doing everything he possibly can to make the Blackhawks’ offense competitive. His nine assists on the year are nothing short of a miracle.
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With the massive expectations placed on Bedard at just 18 years old, it seemed only likely that he’d be the odds-on favorite to win the Calder Trophy, given annually to the best rookie in the NHL. While he’s still the frontrunner, the race to the top isn’t anywhere close to being locked up, and the field is even more crowded than usual. A few players in particular could find themselves in the conversation when their seasons come to a close.
As the second-overall pick in this year’s draft, Carlsson didn’t have to do anything outstanding to find himself in the Calder Trophy conversation. He’s enjoyed a great start to his career and is on pace for 30 goals and 53 points. However, the Ducks’ rookie may be limited in his opportunities this season, as his squad is taking a more conservative approach to his development. His workload is being carefully managed, and he’s only played in 15 of Anaheim’s 24 games so far. While that could give Bedard a healthy head-start, don’t be surprised if Carlsson sets the league on fire in the second half of the season thanks to his fresher legs.
Rossi’s name likely isn’t one that Blackhawks fans want to hear after he netted two goals in Sunday’s matinee between Minnesota and Chicago, but he’s been an impressive forward for the Wild this year. The 2020 ninth-overall pick spent most of last season in the AHL, but after becoming a full-time NHLer for this season, he turned into a staple on both ends of the ice for Minnesota. On pace for 46 points this year, Rossi is the Wild’s most efficient scorer and certainly passes the eye test. With a plus-minus of plus-five, he’s certainly getting some attention in the Calder race, even if most of it is from Minnesota fans.
As the rookie with the second-best odds to win the Calder Trophy, Cooley has 13 points in 22 games. He’s second among rookies with 11 assists and still hasn’t found the back of the net at his normal rate. The third-overall pick in 2022 has excelled at setting up his teammates all year and is a leader of a Coyotes squad still trying to find itself. If he continues to make plays for both himself and his teammates, he’ll find himself among the list of names in consideration for the Trophy at the end of the year.
Though a handful of rookies are enjoying terrific starts to their seasons, the Calder Trophy race is clearly Bedard’s to lose. The 18-year-old leads all rookies in more than a few categories, and given the lack of talent around him, he’s still outperforming his expectations. Though the Blackhawks won’t be hoisting the Stanley Cup at the end of this season, their rookie phenom may be earning himself some hardware.