Overheard at the NHLPA rookie showcase: Expectations for Bedard, Wolf, Carlsson … and a fighting ban?


ARLINGTON, Va. — Connor Bedard circled the ice, waiting for his cue from a hockey card photographer for Upper Deck. He skated purposefully towards an empty net and unleashed a shot.

OK, not a shot, but the shot. That quick, powerful release that’s his calling card as an NHL prospect. That skillful snipe that made him the first overall pick in the 2023 NHL draft by the Chicago Blackhawks, and has positioned Bedard as the league’s latest franchise savior.

The puck rocketed off his blade and landed snugly under the crossbar. How many goals will the 18-year-old score just like that? How many goalies will be left wondering how to stop Bedard?

“Just get in front of it. Somehow,” said Sebastian Cossa, a goalie prospect for the Detroit Red Wings who attended the NHLPA Rookie Showcase in Arlington on Tuesday.

“He’s definitely got a good shot,” Cossa continued. “I played against him in junior and the world juniors. His pull-and-push is obviously pretty special. It’s not really knowing what to expect. You just got to really be on angle and take away the net from him. He’s a special player.”

Bedard was the talk of the rookie showcase.

“I don’t know if it’s possible [to stop him],” Minnesota Wild goalie prospect Jesper Wallstedt said with a laugh.

“I think just his shot’s crazy. His release is unbelievable and he picks his corners well,” said Tyson Foerster, a Philadelphia Flyers prospect.

Montreal Canadiens prospect Owen Beck was Bedard’s teammate on the 2023 Canadian world juniors team that won gold. He still remembers watching Bedard’s winning goal in overtime against Slovakia in the quarterfinals, as the center collected his own rebound and dangled a trio of players before scoring.

“I still see clips of that goal to this day. It was pretty ridiculous. That was the moment that really cemented that this guy’s legit,” Beck said. “He’s very creative. He sees the game very well. He’s kind of two plays ahead [of everyone else].”

Two things to know about Connor Bedard. The first is that he has a wider frame than his listed height of 5-foot-10 would indicate. He said he has spent the summer improving both his speed and strength.

“You’re always trying to get faster, trying to get … I don’t want to say bigger, but, you know, stronger in some ways,” Bedard said. “There’s always going to be an emphasis on playing against all the best players in the world and being able to not get pushed off the puck and stuff like that.”

The other bit is that the only thing more NHL-ready than his shot is Bedard’s news conference comportment. He’s on message, from claiming he hasn’t secured a spot in the NHL yet this season — the thousands of season-ticket sales the Blackhawks have made in his name beg to differ — to his expectations for the 2023-24 season.

“I expect things out of myself. I want to be a good player,” he said. “I want to make a difference and I want to help the team win.”

But there are moments when that 18-year-old living his hockey dream shine through the polished veneer — like the notion that the lifelong hockey card collector will soon collection a hockey card with his image on it.

“I think if I were to open a pack and see myself in it, it would be a little crazy,” he said. “I think every small thing [right now] is kind of a little weird.”

Fellow Blackhawks prospect Kevin Korchinski saw the media swarm around Bedard at the showcase, just as he’s seen the mania surrounding the 2023 top pick.

“He doesn’t do it for [the attention]. He just does the love of the game. I think he just loves hockey,” said Korchinski. “The extra layer of stuff comes with him being a player of his caliber.”

Would Korchinski ever want a day in Bedard’s shoes?

“That’d be pretty cool to have that show,” he said, laughing. “For a day.”

Knies: Stop punishing the Coyotes

Auston Matthews signed a four-year contract extension worth $53 million with the Toronto Maple Leafs this summer.

Leafs rookie Matthew Knies is a fan.

“He’s pretty damn good,” he said. “He’s not just the best goal scorer in the NHL. He plays defensively too. He’s hard to beat on both end of the ice. He’s kind of the best overall player [in the NHL] in my eyes.”

Besides being Leafs teammates, Matthews and Knies are linked for another reason: They grew up in Arizona as fans of the Coyotes.

“It’s my hometown team,” Knies said. “Growing up there, it wasn’t considered the biggest hockey hotbed for youth hockey. But I think it’s trending upwards for sure. It’s growing a lot. More kids are playing and I think that’s a lot due to the Coyotes. It’s really good to see and I just want it keep going that way.”

Any discussion about the Coyotes is a discussion about the future of the Coyotes. They’re entering their second season playing NHL games in an NCAA arena, which is a temporary fix until they can find a site for a new home arena. After a public vote on a Tempe site failed in the spring, Coyotes owner Alex Meruelo executed a letter of intent to purchase a parcel of land in northwest Mesa to potentially build his arena and entertainment district.

“It’d be the most ideal thing for Arizona to stay there,” Knies said. “I know for a kid like me, it meant a lot to have an NHL team there.”

As an Arizona-born player and a Coyotes fan, Knies has endured endless denigration of that hockey market.

“It’s frustrating. I know what hockey means to that community firsthand,” he said. “It’s a little frustrating to see that people don’t really see it as too big of a hockey spot or hockey community.

“I think that they deserve a lot of encouragement rather than punishment for how it’s been looking. I think they’re going to turn upwards. I think they have a lot of potential there.”

Knies noted the fact that Minnesota Golden Gophers teammate Logan Cooley will be one of the players leading that upward turn. Cooley left the NCAA to join the Coyotes as a rookie in 2023-24.

“I think we’re heading in the right direction with some of the guys that they got this year,” Cooley said, pointing to offseason acquisitions such as forwards Jason Zucker and Alex Kerfoot as well as defenseman Matt Dumba. “So besides the rink — obviously that’s not the best situation, but they’re figuring out — we have a bright future and I’m proud to be part of it.”

Cooley played at Mullett Arena during his NCAA career and said having home games there this season “is not a big deal” to him. At least for now.

“Obviously I don’t want to be there the whole time [in my career], but, you know, it’s a good home for now,” he said. “It was a great atmosphere when I played there.”

Wolf eyes Flames job

Dustin Wolf doesn’t have anything to prove in the American Hockey League. The 22-year-old goalie won the Aldege “Baz” Bastien Memorial Award as the AHL’s top goaltender for the second straight season, becoming the first netminder to win the award in consecutive seasons since it was introduced in 1984.

Wolf made his NHL debut with the Flames on April 12 in spectacular fashion, stopping 23 of 24 shots in a 3-1 victory over the San Jose Sharks.

The Flames’ goalie of the future is knocking on their door. It’s just a matter of when they want to open it for him.

Jacob Markstrom is signed for the next three seasons with a full no-movement clause. Backup Dan Vladar is entering the first year of a two-season extension he signed in October.

Does Wolf appreciate the fact that he can take his time to develop, or is he a little more impatient about starting his NHL career?

“I think every year you try to go in and push the boundaries. I think this year I’ve put myself in a good position after last season,” he said. “You know, just try to go into camp and do everything I can to make them make a decision one way or another for what’s going to happen. At the end of the day, if you’re going to stop pucks they’re going to do something to give you a spot.”

Wolf said his mindset coming into Flames’ camp is to “try to win a job,” which means showing Flames coaches and management that he wants to play and is ready to play in the NHL.

“You want to reach that next level as soon as you can. That’s the dream,” he said. “I think at the same time, you believe you’re going to get there at some point, whether it’s this year or a year or two down the line. So whatever team you’re on, you just try to help them win hockey games.”

Leo Carlsson: ‘Of course I’m ready now’

One of the biggest twists of the 2023 NHL draft was when Adam Fantilli, the Hobey Baker Award-winning University of Michigan freshman star, fell to the Columbus Blue Jackets at third overall. That was after a season in which he was cast as the de facto second choice behind Bedard on the draft board.

Because of a travel complication, Fantilli didn’t attend the NHLPA rookie showcase. The player who was drafted second overall ahead of him was there: Leo Carlsson, the big Swedish center who is now a member of the Anaheim Ducks.

“We’re all good friends now,” Carlsson said of Bedard and Fantilli. “We have a lot of potential going into the season. Obviously, I don’t know if I’m going to be playing in the AHL or the NHL. But it’s going to be a fun year.”

His future may be in the hands of Ducks coaches and management, but Carlsson didn’t waver when asked if he was ready for the NHL at 18 years old.

“Oh, of course. I think so,” he said.

But he admits there are challenges from making the jump from the Swedish Hockey League to the NHL.

“The smaller rink. It’s a little faster-thinking game, too,” he said.

Carlsson spent a week in Anaheim at development camp and enjoyed Orange County. While he didn’t get a chance to hit Disneyland, he said he’s looking forward to it.

Sean Farrell‘s three-year Harvard journey

Sean Farrell’s life has always had a hasty velocity. He played in the Olympics at just 20 years old. He made his debut with the Montreal Canadiens last season before he had a single practice with the team.

So it should come as no surprise that Farrell breezed through university in just three years.

Except that university happens to be Harvard. Which does make it a little surprising.

“That was kind of my goal going into Harvard is to try to get it done as soon as possible,” Farrell said. “It’s definitely a good feeling, to have it done so now I can just worry about hockey the next year and like in the summers going forward.”

In November, Farrell will receive his bachelor’s degree in economics from Harvard in the mail.

The center, a native of Milford, Massachusetts, began his college journey by taking online classes during the COVID-19 pandemic, while playing hockey for the USHL Chicago Steel. He skated for Harvard from 2021 to ’23 before debuting for the Canadiens on March 28. He ended up playing six games for the Habs, scoring one goal.

How did he manage to earn a degree from Harvard in three years?

“I had a lot of help from some teammates. There’s been guys who’ve done it in the past and they kind of gave me their schedules, what they did in the summers with classes and how to stay on track to meet that three-year mark,” he said. “I had a ton of help along the way. So many of my teammates taking the same classes with me. We all kind of grinded out together.”

Farrell said those teammates would tell him which classes to select based on the professors.

“I think there were a couple classes that were pretty hard, ones that I had some longer nights,” he said. “But I think we tried to take the easiest classes as possible.”

Now that he’s completed a Harvard degree in three years, Farrell’s onto his next challenge — playing a bigger role on the Canadiens.

“My goal going into camp is to make Montreal and make the roster on opening night. I’ll just put my best foot forward,” he said.

Nashville’s wild summer

If Luke Evangelista had appeared in one more game for the Nashville Predators last season, he wouldn’t have been invited to the rookie showcase. But at 24 games played, he kept his Calder Trophy eligibility for the 2023-24 season and came to Arlington as the combine’s most experienced NHL player.

He returns to Nashville for his second season to find a franchise in transition. Former coach Barry Trotz replaced David Poile, the only general manager the Predators have known. Trotz vowed the Predators would be a more offensive team, and hired Andrew Brunette to replace John Hynes, who was the only NHL coach that Evangelista has known.

“There’s a lot going on. I mean, obviously they’re trying to change the direction — kind of like a youth movement, I guess,” he said. “You could feel it kind of like at the deadline when I got called up. They made a lot of trades there and it continues into the offseason. Obviously there’s a lot of opportunity for young guys coming up. It’s an exciting time to be a part of Nashville.”

But some of these changes were bittersweet for Evangelista. In particular, the decision to buy out the contract of center Matt Duchene, who signed with the Dallas Stars as a free agent. Evangelista said he lost a mentor.

“Duchene really kind of showed me the ropes and took me under his wing,” he said. “He’s an Ontario guy too. Big hockey nerd. I was always picking his brain. It was really cool learning from him in my first little stint. So I’m said to see him go.”

Evangelista reached out to Duchene after the buyout to thank him for welcoming him when he was called up to the Predators.

But players leaving Nashville means lineup opportunities for young players like Evangelista, who had an eye-opening 15 points in 24 games, including seven goals.

“It’s up to us now to seize that chance,” he said. “It’s there for us. You got to go get it.”

Faber remains stunned by trade

In June 2022, Brock Faber was a blue-chip defensive prospect for the Los Angeles Kings. But then he became a trade chip in their blockbuster deal for winger Kevin Fiala, going to the Minnesota Wild along with a first-round pick.

Over a year later, Faber is still shocked by the deal.

“It was definitely something I wasn’t expecting,” he said. “But obviously being traded to your hometown team is something I’m so grateful for.”

It was the perfect cushion on which to land. No, Faber wouldn’t get to live the SoCal life he had imagined as a member of the Kings. But he would get a chance to play for the team he grew up rooting for as a young fan growing up in Maple Grove, Minnesota.

Faber played two regular-season games for the Wild in 2022-23, averaging 20:04 of ice time per game, before playing six games in the Stanley Cup playoffs.

“It was two great scenarios. I was so happy with L.A. They obviously treated me so well — the whole staff there,” Faber said. “Then getting traded, it was obviously … it was weird to process at first. Then when I kind of processed it, I realized it was, you know, the Minnesota Wild. It was a dream come true.”

Mulling the fighting ban

Junior hockey leagues like the Western Hockey League and the Ontario Hockey League have rules in place that address egregious fights and frequent fighters. But the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League has gone one step further this season, officially banning fighting.

According to the QMJHL rulebook: “As soon as a fight occurs, those engaged must be systematically ejected from the game. Any player found to have instigated the fight will also receive an automatic one-game suspension. The person declared to be the aggressor during the fight will receive a minimum of two automatic games of suspension. In addition to the game misconduct, an automatic game suspension is imposed starting with the player’s second fight of the season.”

Edmonton Oilers prospect Xavier Bourgault played in the “Q” from 2018 to ’22.

“For me, I think fighting will be always a part of the game. I mean, it’s just to defend yourself or defend a teammate that got just got hit,” he said. “But for now, for the Q, they don’t have the fighting anymore. That was their choice but it’s part of the game.”

Without fighting, Bourgault is worried there could be a rise in “cheap shots” among players.

“There’s no fighting, so some guys that say that don’t like to fight or that they don’t want to defend themselves, they’re going to try to maybe be dirty,” he said.

Evangelista, who came up through the OHL, wasn’t pleased to hear the QMJHL had banned fighting.

“I don’t love that they’re getting rid of it. I’ve played with a lot of guys that played in the Q and that that was their game,” he said. “Not just fighting, but playing that hard-nosed hockey, sticking up for their teammates. Taking that element away from the game just doesn’t feel as much [like hockey] as NHL hockey does.”