Connor Bedard is the most hyped hockey player since Connor McDavid. He is not the only rookie worth watching this NHL season.
Who's Bedard looking forward to seeing?
“Everyone,” he said." There’s so many guys. You can kind of go down the list. Just being a fan of the game and watching a lot of hockey, I’m really excited to watch these guys."
Bedard, the No. 1 overall draft pick of the Chicago Blackhawks, tops the list of players likely to follow Seattle's Matty Beniers as the winner of the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year. The class includes No. 2 pick Leo Carlsson of Anaheim, No. 3 pick Adam Fantilli of Columbus and prospects like New Jersey's Luke Hughes and Toronto's Matthew Knies, who late last season and in the playoffs already got a taste of the pros.
“This has to be one of the best there’s ever been,” said Arizona's Logan Cooley, who is ready to make his NHL debut.
Bedard's lightning-quick release has gotten plenty of attention. The biggest question is how he will handle the physicality of facing bigger, stronger and more experienced players.
McDavid got to train with Bedard outside Toronto, and the three-time MVP thinks the 18-year-old is the real deal.
“He’s got all the tools, and he’s got to a good head on his shoulders,” McDavid said. “He’s going to be a good one."
A Michigan product like Beniers, Fantilli is 6-foot-2 and 195 pounds. The skilled center won the Hobey Baker Award as the top college player after putting up nearly two points a game last season and is expected to play right away for the Blue Jackets.
“He’s so fast, so powerful and smart,” Bedard said. “I’m really excited to see what he does in Columbus. He’s going to be special.”
The younger brother of Vancouver captain Quinn Hughes and 2019 New Jersey No. 1 pick Jack Hughes may wind up being the best of the bunch. Luke, a defenseman with offensive skills, played in two regular-season and three playoff games alongside Jack with the Devils last season and already looks the part.
“Luke's no slouch,” Jack said, pointing out his younger brother was the fourth pick in 2021. “Obviously he had a really good playoffs with us, and I think we’re all really excited for him."
The Maple Leafs played salary cap gymnastics to make sure Knies could make his NHL debut in April, and it paid off with four points in seven playoff games. A U.S. Olympian in Beijing last year, the big forward is grateful for the head start that's aided by playing for a top Eastern Conference contender.
"It was a good opportunity to get to play," Knies said. “It kind of makes me a little more familiar with the NHL pace and the game.”
The second pick of the Ducks over Fantilli, the Swedish center has drawn comparisons to countryman Nicklas Backstrom and other elite NHL players. Carlsson isn't sure if he will start in the NHL or American Hockey League but knows his biggest adjustment will be to the rink surfaces in North America that are 15 feet narrower than in Europe.
“The small rink (is) a little bit of a faster-thinking game and (facing) veteran guys, it’s going to be more challenging,” Carlsson said.
The third pick in the 2022 draft initially planned to play another season at the University of Minnesota before changing his mind and signing with the Coyotes in July. He might be more NHL-ready right now than the two players chosen ahead of him, Montreal's Juraj Slafkovsky and New Jersey's Simon Nemec, but the pressure to contribute right away is a bit lower in Arizona.
“I’m just taking things slow,” Cooley said. “Obviously it’s a super tough league, and I’m prepared. I’m ready.”
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