The New York Islanders are desperately seeking a win to close out their road trip against the last-place Blackhawks on Friday night. Chicago will be without Connor Bedard, the No. 1 pick in the 2023 NHL Draft and hockey's next big star after he suffered a broken jaw earlier this month.
Not having to deal with Bedard's elite offensive skills should help the Islanders, but that doesn't mean that some of their players, like Mathew Barzal, aren't a bit disappointed they won't get to skate against the young phenom. Barzal and Bedard have a relationship that goes back years, and the Islanders' All-Star has been keeping in touch with the rookie during his first NHL season.
"I would've liked to have him out here," said Barzal. "Obviously, you don't like to see a guy like hurt on a hit like that. I was looking forward to it. "I've seen him kinda grow up from 12, 13 years old so happy for him that he's been lighting it up so extensively in juniors and the NHL now. I would've liked to have him out there tonight."
Barzal has skated with Bedard for years, ever since the Calder Trophy favorite started joining NHL players and top prospects for summer workouts with others from the Lower Mainland region. Through 39 games this season, the 18-year-old Bedard has 15 goals and 18 assists.
Barzal knows that Bedard is special and that, like other generational No. 1 picks before him, he possesses a combination of talent and creativity that allows him to incorporate new skills and moves that haven't been seen or tried before.
"Everybody talks about his shot which is obviously elite," said the three-time All-Star. "He has a really long stick that allows him to do certain things with deception. He has a bag of tricks, new moves you really haven't seen."
"McDavid came in and had new moves, Syd came in, and Ovie came in; they had new moves," noted Barzal. "I feel like Connor's come in and he has different tricks and different moves."
The Islanders host Bedard and the Blackhawks on Apr. 2 at UBS Arena.