Bedard bedazzling by using more than just offensive skills

More and more, Blackhawks’ forward realizing how important defense is in the NHL

Rarely does one become a superstar in the NHL right away.

After all, it takes time to understand every facet of playing at the highest level.

We are seeing ample evidence of that when it comes to Connor Bedard during a rookie season in which he's scored 20 goals and dished out 31 assists in 53 games.

While Bedard's offensive skills have never been in question, the most encouraging thing for the Blackhawks is that his defensive game is rising to another level.

It helps that Bedard's linemates are Nick Foligno and Philipp Kurashev. Foligno is one of the most responsible and heady forwards in the league, and Kurashev is that fellow young buck that Bedard can meld with to create some pretty sweet magic.

“We're hunting,” Foligno said after Tuesday's 7-2 victory over Anaheim. “That's what I'm talking about. It's understanding when (to attack at the) end of the period. Couple times this year we've gotten scored on because we're almost cheating it instead of on the right side of it.”

But not against the Ducks. A key sequence during that rout came with the Hawks leading 3-2 near the end of the second period. With the puck looking like it would exit the O-zone, Bedard raced over and whacked at it before Ryan Strome could nudge it over the blue line.

Foligno secured the puck along the boards and dished to Kurashev, who then dished to Bedard.


Bedard's one-timer sailed past goalie John Gibson with just 28 seconds remaining in the period.

“That's what I'm really encouraged about with Bedsy is he's starting to understand how he can use his defense to create offense,” Foligno said. “The greats do that.”

It's important to note Bedard's two-game, 8-point explosion came against bottom-feeders Arizona and Anahiem. In the previous eight contests, Bedard had no goals and 4 assists.

Bedard and the Hawks faced a much stiffer test against visiting Los Angeles on Friday — and they failed miserably as the Kings beat goalie Arvid Soderblom four times in the opening 15 minutes en route to a 5-0 victory. Soderblom, who won his last two starts, was pulled after the fourth goal and fell to 4-19-1.

Los Angeles Kings' Kevin Fiala (22) handles the puck as Chicago Blackhawks goaltender Petr Mrazek (34) and Jarred Tinordi defend during the second period of an NHL hockey game Friday, March 15, 2024, in Chicago. Mrazek was called for slashing on the play. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast) AP

The goals weren't all Soderblom's fault as the Hawks yielded 16 shots during his time in net, but the rookie is still having serious issues with the basic tenets of goaltending. One of his alarming tendencies is to come leave the crease too quickly, thus opening the backdoor for easy scores.

Petr Mrazek does the opposite. He stays home and locks down large portions of the net so opponents only have a small percentage to shoot at.

Hawks coach Luke Richardson doesn't believe a night like this will sink Soderblom's confidence.

“He's got to feel good even about the three or four games before he got a couple wins,” Richardson said. “It was building back up and one game you can't let it come down. He's shown in the past where he's pretty solid mentally. … We'll make sure he knows the circumstances tonight, that just happens.”

OK, back to Bedard. In addition to watching his defensive game mature, pay attention to how he continues to build chemistry with Kurashev as the season winds down.

“Man, I love playing with him,” Bedard said. “He's so skilled. The best part is we’re always talking about plays or even in practice kind of working on stuff together.”

Kurashev has always been a talented player, but he also disappeared for long stretches last season when he scored 9 goals and had 16 assists in 70 games. This season, he has career highs in goals (13) and assists (27). Seventeen of his 40 points have come in the last 20 games.

“They have a cool bond, the way they talk to each other,” Foligno said. “I kind of feel like I'm the dad, overseeing their conversation a little bit. I try to get in there, but I can't really relate on some aspects. I think that's on purpose. They shy away as soon as I skate by.

“But you need that. You need a guy you play off and understand you and you can kind of gravitate toward. That's awesome.”

Slap shots:

Lukas Reichel was recalled Friday from Rockford, although he did not play in the Hawks' 5-0 loss to the Kings. He scored 1 goal and had 6 assists in nine games with the IceHogs. … It was a quiet NHL debut for Landon Slaggert, who signed a two-year contract Sunday after completing his senior season at Notre Dame. Slaggert did not take a shot on goal in 10 minutes of ice time.

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