Yesterday was the day hockey fans across the nation(s) have been waiting for with opening night for the 2023-2024 NHL season. It was also the day a little-known (we say that sarcastically) first-overall draft pick by the name of Connor Bedard suited up for the Chicago Blackhawks.
While every fan paid close attention to his every face-off, shot, and shift, (Bedard finished with an assist) there was something else he did that caught our attention.
About mid-way through the first period, Noel Acciari’s stick had some unfortunate contact with Tyler Johnson’s face, drawing blood.
What was initially ruled a double minor for high sticking was reviewed and later became no penalty at all. The justification was that Johnson was hunched over when Acciari’s stick hit his face, thus the stick technically wasn’t “high”, hence an accident, but no penalty.
The Chicago Blackhawks have a star developing in Connor Bedard.
As the chaos was unfolding, we noticed it was Bedard who was chatting up the referee about Schrödinger’s high stick. Normally the job of explaining penalties falls to a team’s captain, that’s quite literally the captain’s job.
No one on the Blackhawks wears the “C” this season, with no one following in the steps of long-time captain Jonathan Toews. Bedard isn’t the team’s captain, yet he holds that responsibility. Bedard doesn’t even have an “A” in his sweater.
The only “special” patch on his jersey is the one memorializing former Chicago owner Rocky Wirtz. Yet the league is already treating him like the captain in everything but name only.
If you watched ESPN’s pregame, you know the league is already looking at Bedard as the heir apparent to Sidney Crosby, the Pittsburgh Penguins generational talent turned captain.
He’s already been compared to Connor McDavid, another generational talent turned captain, more times than we can count. Ask Chicago fans and they know Bedard getting the captaincy is not a question of if, but a question of when.
Obviously, Bedard wouldn’t be named captain in his rookie season, let alone his first game. There’s no other obvious candidate on the team and anyone else getting it would merely be a temporary placeholder.
As the ESPN crew noted, the Blackhawks have plenty of high draft picks in the next few drafts. Chances are the majority of players who look to Bedard as captain haven’t even heard their names on draft day yet.
Maybe we’re reading too much into this. Maybe Bedard politely asked the ref and the on-ice official politely obliged the NHL’s next big thing in a little explanatory conversation.
It’s hard to imagine any other rookie would be given such an audience with a referee when there’s a captain there to lend an ear. Yet there was Bedard, acting like a captain when his career was barely even a half period old.