Before Connor Bedard had laced up his skates for a regular season game, the 18-year-old hockey phenom had already caused a surge in the Chicago Blackhawks’ season ticket sales. He had fans talking about a return to glory for a team that had fallen on hard times. And he was drawing audacious comparisons to some of the sport’s greatest stars.
When he scored the first goal of his career on Oct. 11, a graphic was displayed on the television broadcast that bordered on parody.
“He’s handling it so well,” Taylor Hall, a teammate of Mr. Bedard’s, told reporters last week. “He doesn’t seem to be fazed by it. But it can be a little much for him at times.
“He doesn’t say that, but it feels like it is.”
Mr. Bedard, 18, was the top pick in the N.H.L.’s draft in June. He is among the most hyped prospects in hockey history.Credit…Kamil Krzaczynski/USA Today Sports, via Reuters
It will be years before anyone knows if comparisons to Mr. Gretzky, hockey’s all-time leading scorer, were apt, but Mr. Bedard, who has impressed many in the Blackhawks’ slow start, will have an undeniable impact on the look of games in Chicago, where his No. 98 jersey has already reached ubiquity.
Just before the season began, the N.H.L. announced that Mr. Bedard had the game’s best-selling jersey since the day he was drafted in June — when he was still only 17 — and that was fairly obvious at the United Center in Chicago on Saturday when the Blackhawks held their home opener and Mr. Bedard’s jersey was everywhere, with fans leaving their throwbacks of former stars at home and embracing the team’s future in a huge way.
That Chicago’s newest must-have fashion accessory has a large illustration of a Native American man’s face on the front amid national calls to eliminate the use of such imagery is jarring for some, but the team has insisted its nickname and logo honor and raise awareness for Black Hawk, a Sauk leader and warrior, which puts them in a different category than teams whose names and symbols are considered racist or belittling. It is a contention that has been met with intense disagreement among many Native American groups.
The debate over a name change will likely continue for years to come, and Mr. Bedard’s outsize popularity could end up spreading the discussion far beyond Chicago. For now, the young hockey star, who scored his second career goal in Saturday’s loss to the Vegas Golden Knights, can focus on things with far lower stakes, like how he will close the 892-goal gap between himself and Mr. Gretzky.