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It’s unofficially the beginning of the Connor Bedard era of Chicago Blackhawks hockey. After being selected first overall in the NHL Draft in June, Bedard’s on-ice debut has been long-awaited by Blackhawks fans and hockey fans alike. While this was not his official NHL debut, which will come on October 10 in Pittsburgh, this was the first time he was on an NHL ice surface playing with and against (mostly) NHL talent.
Bedard is the focal-point of the Blackhawks organization this year and for many, many years to come, but his story is far from the only one worth watching. Blackhawks head coach Luke Richardson iced a near-NHL caliber lineup for Game One of the preseason, so we were treated to not only our first looks at Connor Bedard, but also newcomers Taylor Hall, Ryan Donato, Corey Perry, Nick Foligno, and young guns Kevin Korchinski and Lukas Reichel playing prominent roles.
To put it lightly, this game was very preseasony. Lost edges, fumbled pucks, missed assignments, choppy ice, there was everything you’d expect in a tune-up game for most players on the ice and for a few trying to do a little too much to make an impact on their NHL clubs.
Philipp Kurashev opened the scoring for the Blackhawks in the second period with a nice forehand-backhand play after corralling a rebound off a Bedard shot. Kevin Korchinski and Bedard were credited with the assists on Kurashev’s 1-0 goal. St. Louis’ Robert Thomas tied the game mid-way through the third period and neither team was able to break the tie in regulation. In the overtime period, it was none other than Bedard coming in on a two-on-one chance with Andreas Athanasiou and the 18-year-old fed a cross-ice pass to Athanasiou who finished the play and gave the Blackhawks the 2-1 overtime win.
They are 1-0-0 in the preseason, woo!
Mario: Connor Bedard on full display
This kid is going to be special. That cannot be stressed enough. Seriously, Chicago, for as bad as the sports landscape is in the city, Bedard is the light at the end of the tunnel.
The decibel levels increased in the United Center every time he touched the puck, and for good reason. He had space and opportunities to create offense, whether by dangling through the entire Blues defense and creating his own shot or by setting up scoring chances with cross-ice feeds, Bedard is going to be a dynamic facilitator.
He finished his first game at the United Center with 21:20 minutes played (second-most on the team), two primary assists, five shots on goal, and won 62.5% of his face-offs.
Not too shabby, right? Wrong. Bedard said after the game that he felt like he didn’t play his best. The standards are rising, my frents.
While this was his first game at the United Center for the Blackhawks, it still was merely an appetizer for the regular season and for his official home debut coming on October 21.
Jay: Blackhawks Young Defensemen Learning on the Job
All of training camp, Blackhawks Head Coach Luke Richardson has expressed a willingness to let young defensemen learn on the job, and Thursday night was their first lesson. While Alex Vlasic, Wyatt Kaiser, Kevin Korchinski and Nolan Allan all had overall solid performances, there were a few moments each of them would probably want back.
Wyatt Kaiser, who seems as big of a lock to make the team as any of the kids on the blue line, looked poised and confident with the puck, but there were a few moments where he might have been overly confident. Kaiser, who was tied with Bedard for the team lead with five shots on goal, will have to learn to make the simple play to get the puck out of trouble. I counted three times where Kaiser had the chance to get the puck to safety, but he opted to make another move or two in attempt for a more perfect zone exit. Each instance led to a turnover. These are teaching moments for a young player, and if I saw them, you know Richardson already has them cued up for their next film session.
Nolan Allan, early in the game, had a turnover, but nothing fatal. There was another moment where he tried to get the puck from the right point to Connor Bedard, who was standing near the left face-off dot. It almost worked, but the pass was picked off and the Blues went the other way with the puck. In this instance, I don’t mind taking a chance to make a play, but these plays that worked in Junior will be tougher to make in the NHL.
Both of these example are nit picking. Every player in a red sweater had their moments of rust in this game. Connor Murphy and Seth Jones had some of the game’s most egregious errors, so there’s nothing to panic about. Just something to keep an eye on as these kids grow into their NHL careers.
Kevin Korchinski, unsurprisingly, was the most offensively involved Blackhawks defenseman. He took several pucks deep into the Blues zone and even rocked a shot off St. Louis goalie Joel Hofer’s mask. He seemed to have a knack for reading when and where to take his chances. He also showed great awareness after taking the puck deep in the third period. The puck moved its way back to center ice, and Korchinski turned on the jets from behind the Blues’ goal to get back to center ice to retrieve the puck. It was a solid game for Korchinski, who ended the game with an assist, three shots, and 21:10 of ice time.
Vlasic is the safest defenseman of the group and already looks like an NHL veteran. If he doesn’t make the team out of camp, I will be absolutely shocked. He’s paid his dues in Rockford and plays a safe game. He is the most NHL-ready of the group. He played 17:32 uneventful minutes, which is what the Hawks are looking for from him.
Greg: Drew Commesso Shines in Professional Debut
With all the attention given to Bedard’s United Center debut, Drew Commesso’s first taste of professional hockey was lost in the shuffle. The 21-year-old netminder relieved Petr Mrazek at the 10:15 mark of the second period. Mrazek wasn’t very busy but was perfect in stopping all eight shots he faced.
Commesso got to play with a lead right away thanks Kurashev scoring the opening goal 63 seconds after he entered the game. Two minutes later, he was tested by back-to-back shots from Zach Dean and Joseph Duszak and stopped them both. He had to be on his toes late in the middle frame when Connor Murphy blew a tire right in front of him, causing him to make an unexpected save.
During rookie camp, Commesso told us he used Andrei Vasilevskiy’s training program over the summer and focused on his lateral movements. Those movements were put to the test early in the third period when he quickly moved from his right to left to stop a one timer from Zachary Bolduc. A few moments later, Robert Thomas beat Commesso to his glove hand with a quick wrister to tie the game. It was the best shot he saw all night, and one that would have beat most goaltenders in the NHL.
For a kid playing in his first professional game, he looked calm and collected all night long. He never lost his crease and had solid positioning. He stopped 16 of the 17 shots he faced to earn the win. We are going to see a lot of Commesso with the Rockford IceHogs and you should be encouraged by what we saw at the United Center tonight.
The Blackhawks are next in action on Saturday night when they travel to take on the Minnesota Wild at 6:00 p.m. CT. The CHGO Blackhawks crew has your postgame show LIVE following the game on the CHGO Sports YouTube Channel.
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