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Bedard aiming to 'create more offense' in sophomore season

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Following a strong debut season that'll likely earn him the Calder Trophy as the league's top rookie, Chicago Blackhawks phenom Connor Bedard is already thinking about where he can improve for Year 2.

"Obviously, I want to get faster," he told reporters Saturday. "In the gym, more explosive probably, a little stronger for puck battles and netfront, little things like that. ... I'm gonna work on trying to create more offense. ... That creativity of playing the game and having fun."

Bedard already showed off plenty of offensive prowess with his Auston Matthews-inspired shot, clever passes, and a Michigan goal scored in December.

The 2023 first overall pick amassed 22 goals and 61 points in 68 outings to secure the best season by a Blackhawks rookie since Artemi Panarin in 2015-16, though the Russian wasn't a teenager at the time like Bedard.

The 18-year-old missed 14 games with a fractured jaw after taking a hit from New Jersey Devils defenseman Brendan Smith, but Bedard made it clear that he's not going to "shy away from trying to make something happen."

"I got blown up a decent amount this year. I'm gonna get hit a lot, it's hockey, it's a contact sport, so I'm not afraid of that," Bedard added.

He was a tough critic of his own game prior to the Blackhawks' last game of the season on Thursday.

"Personally, I think I was OK a lot," he said. "Maybe not as good as I hoped."

"I hope I'm better (next season), of course," he added. "I'll do everything I can throughout the summer to try to make that happen, but actions speak a lot louder than words."

Bedard pointed to his defensive play and faceoffs as other areas of improvement. He was a team-worst minus-44 on the season and won just 38.9% of his draws.

"An improved Connor Bedard is a scary thought," Blackhawks veteran Nick Foligno said Friday, per the Chicago Sun-Times' Ben Pope.

The Blackhawks ranked 31st in the league this season with a 23-53-6 record. Though it was a frustrating year, it left Bedard feeling more appreciative of Chicago's supporters.

"I couldn't be more grateful for everything this year that the fans did. ... (Patrick) Kane and (Jonathan) Toews were here for a long time, and with them not being here this year and (the fans) embracing us the way they did, it was incredible," Bedard said.

He added, "We know it was a tough year, but the support we got throughout never wavered. ... It exceeded my expectations by a long way, and my expectations were pretty high."

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