Blackhawks rookie Connor Bedard leads 12 to watch as NHL training camps open

Chicago Blackhawks center Connor Bedard is the most anticipated rookie to enter the NHL since Connor McDavid went No. 1 overall in 2015.

This year's first overall pick got an opportunity to talk with McDavid, a three-time MVP, and Sidney Crosby, among others, about expectations during the BioSteel camp early this month.

"It’s not an easy league," Bedard told reporters. "It’s the best league in the world. But I think that’s just preparing yourself the best you can. I felt like I’ve done that this summer. I’ve worked really hard and tried to improve every day."

The generational prospect finished his final junior hockey season with 143 points in 57 games and was world junior championships MVP with 23 points in seven games. Those expectations are following him to the NHL and he showed off his elite shot during a rookie tournament game on the way to a hat trick against St. Louis Blues prospects.

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"I’m trying to pursue a dream," he said. "There’s obviously pressure from the outside. I want to do well. I’m hard on myself and I expect a lot of myself, but pressure goes away, in my mind, when you’re just doing what you love."

He leads the 12 to watch as training camps open Wednesday with physicals and practices beginning on Thursday. Here are others to watch:

Erik Karlsson, Pittsburgh Penguins

The Norris Trophy-winning defenseman was acquired from the San Jose Sharks and will try to help core veterans Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang get back to the playoffs. He had the first 100-point season by a defenseman since the early 1990s and could add to that playing with those stars. But how will coach Mike Sullivan divvy up the ice for Karlsson and Letang?

Coach Pascal Vincent, Columbus Blue Jackets

He was supposed to be the No. 2 coach in Columbus this season, but Mike Babcock's resignation after an NHL Players' Association investigation gave him the reins three days before camps open. Vincent, 51, says he's ready. He's familiar with Columbus players after two seasons there and has been a coach of the year in the American Hockey League and the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. "What I'm good at is I'm a team player and I care about people," he said. Vincent said he and Babcock had gone over systems this summer and he'll make tweaks and it will be different from last season, when the banged-up Blue Jackets fell to 31st overall.

Joonas Korpisalo, Ottawa Senators

The Senators traded for veteran goalie Cam Talbot before last season and it didn't pan out. He dealt with injuries and Filip Gustavsson, who went to Minnesota in the trade, had a breakout season. The Senators are looking for better results from Korpisalo, who signed a five-year, $20 million contract. They're hoping for the version of the player who had a 2.13 goals-against average after his trade to the Los Angeles Kings than the one whose GAA was 3.47 in his last two-plus seasons with Columbus. But the Senators have a better defense than the Blue Jackets. Korpisalo will compete for the No. 1 job with Anton Forsberg, who's coming off injuries to both knees in a goalmouth collision.

Leo Carlsson, Anaheim Ducks, and Adam Fantilli, Blue Jackets

They went second and third in the draft, respectively, though some mock drafts had Fantilli going second overall. They'll have their whole careers to determine who is the better player, but training camp is where they'll learn their roles for their first year. Fantilli could end up as a center for Johnny Gaudreau and Patrik Laine, and Carlsson will join talented youngsters Trevor Zegras and Mason McTavish in Anaheim. Fantilli, a Hobey Baker Award winner at the University of Michigan, had three goals and two assists during a Blue Jackets rookie tournament game. Carlsson had a goal and two assists in two games.

Alexis Lafreniere, New York Rangers

The 2020 No. 1 overall pick has 91 points over his first three seasons, numbers that are low for a lofty draft position. But the Rangers have a new coach in Peter Laviolette. Does Lafreniere get more of an opportunity than he did under Gerard Gallant? The natural left wing could shift to right wing in order to get a better chance at a top six role.

Shane Wright, Seattle Kraken

The projected No. 1 pick in the 2022 draft dropped to fourth and with the Kraken better than expected in their second season, Wright wasn't able to get ice time. He eventually returned to junior hockey and played in the American Hockey League playoffs. This is another chance for him to make the team, but it's possible he ends up in the AHL again.

Charlie Coyle and Pavel Zacha, Boston Bruins

The Bruins, who finished with a record 65 wins and 135 points last season, lost centers Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci to retirement this summer. The team didn't trade for a center, so it's up to Coyle and Zacha to fill those roles. The Bruins did name a new captain on Wednesday to replace Bergeron, handing the role to 14-year veteran Brad Marchand.

Jonathan Drouin, Colorado Avalanche

The former No. 3 overall pick was signed in the offseason. He hasn't met expectations but will be with former junior hockey teammate Nathan MacKinnon in Colorado. Do they become linemates again and does that help Drouin top his career best of 53 points?

Logan Thompson, Vegas Golden Knights

The goalie was an All-Star in his first full season before suffering a season-ending injury. Adin Hill eventually assumed the No. 1 job and led the Golden Knights to their first Stanley Cup title. Hill signed a two-year contract and Thompson is also signed through 2024-25. Training camp should give an idea of how they might be used this season.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: NHL training camps open: Connor Bedard leads 12 to watch