A pair of Original Six franchises at the beginning of new eras will clash on Wednesday night when the host Boston Bruins open their season against rookie sensation Connor Bedard and the Chicago Blackhawks.
Chicago caps a back-to-back after scoring four unanswered goals to lift the lid on its season with a 4-2 win at Pittsburgh on Tuesday.
After scoring the NHL’s fewest goals during their 26-win 2022-23 campaign, the Blackhawks are looking to the 18-year-old Bedard to provide a major offensive spark.
The most recent No. 1 overall draft pick became the youngest player to record a point in his NHL debut since 2013, getting an assist on Ryan Donato’s second-period goal. Bedard’s five shots on goal in 21:29 of ice time were a team high.
“The guys want to win so (badly) and they’re so focused on improving every day,” Bedard said after the game. “That’s what we were thinking going into every period, just to get a little bit better.”
Meanwhile, Boston has not played a game that counts since its Presidents’ Trophy season ended in first-round playoff heartbreak last April.
After centers Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci retired in the offseason, the Bruins’ expectations haven’t changed with captain Brad Marchand and alternates David Pastrnak — who is coming off Boston’s first 60-goal season since Phil Esposito’s in 1974-75 — and Charlie McAvoy leading the way.
“The disappointment of last year … is in the rearview mirror,” Boston coach Jim Montgomery said ahead of the Bruins’ 100th season. “We’re talking about making the playoffs and how we’ll go about doing that. … My (pregame) speech is definitely going to (push) the opportunity in front of us.”
The outstanding goaltending pair of Linus Ullmark and Jeremy Swayman returns, but there are numerous changes to Montgomery’s lineup.
Pavel Zacha and Charlie Coyle will elevate to top-six center roles. Veteran Milan Lucic, who spent his first eight NHL seasons in Boston — winning the 2011 Stanley Cup — returns after playing the last eight seasons elsewhere.
James van Riemsdyk (formerly with Philadelphia), Morgan Geekie (Seattle) and Kevin Shattenkirk (Anaheim) are free-agent newcomers, though the team’s core is undoubtedly younger.
“This next chapter in Bruins history is going to be written by us,” McAvoy said. “We all have something to prove — that’s me, that’s (Pastrnak), that’s (Brandon Carlo), that’s (Hampus Lindholm). None of us have won. … We’ve gone as far as you can go.”
A rookie was a star of Boston’s camp, too, as forward Matthew Poitras logged a team-high three goals and two assists over five preseason games.
While Bedard has been the center of attention in Chicago, it is truly a new start for the franchise without longtime cornerstones Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews.
A revamped core includes Corey Perry (acquired from Tampa Bay) and two Bruins of yesteryear in Nick Foligno and Taylor Hall, the latter who was himself a No. 1 pick in 2010.
“With Kane and Toews not around anymore, those were players that I looked up to playing in the league,” Hall said. “And for them not to be here anymore it certainly is a new direction for the team.”
Hall opened the season on a line with Bedard and Massachusetts native Donato.
Chicago’s leadership will be by committee. Even youngsters like Bedard and fellow NHL debutant Kevin Korchinski have already contributed to that responsibility.
“We announced earlier that we’re not going to have a captain with a ‘C’ this year, but we have lots of captains on this team,” Blackhawks coach Luke Richardson said.