Senators prepare for Connor Bedard’s first trip to Ottawa with Hawks

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Connor Bedard will be showing for one night only.

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The No. 1 overall pick in last June’s National Hockey League draft is in town for the first time in his career with the Chicago Blackhawks on Thursday night against the Ottawa Senators for his only visit to the Canadian Tire Centre this season and the expectation is the building will be full.

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The 18-year-old Bedard has lived up to the hype and heads into the final month of the season as the top candidate for the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s rookie of the year.

There was a lot of pressure on Bedard, who is the cornerstone piece in this rebuild by the Hawks general manager Kyle Davidson. He finished his Western Hockey League career with a whopping 134-137-271 points in 134 games over three seasons with the Regina Pats.

He has been nearly a point-a-game player with 21 goals, 35 assists and 56 points in 58 games this season. That has Bedard ranked at the top of the rookie scoring, even though he missed a month with a broken jaw. He’s 16 points ahead of New Jersey’s Luke Hughes and Minnesota’s Brock Faber.

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Bedard was named the NHL’s rookie of the month in November and December. He’s trending to get recognized again with four goals and 16 points in 12 games this month as the Hawks arrive in town coming of a 3-1 win over the Calgary Flames.

Bedard is averaging 19 minutes and 41 seconds per game playing in the middle of Ryan Donato on the left and Phillip Kurashev on the right.

“After the first little bit, it was nice. The first month was pretty crazy, especially training camp and those first five games,” Bedard said. “It was a lot and it was great to get that start.

“But when things calmed down for me personally off the ice and it was nice just to get into that rhythm and get used to the lifestyle. On the ice, you have to get used to the how good the teams are and how hard of a league it is. The biggest thing for me is growth throughout the year.

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“It’s been tough with the losing but for a lot of us it’s been about trying to grow, become closer and try to push this thing forward.”

The previous time the Senators faced the Hawks, Bedard finished with a highlight-reel goal and an assist in a 3-2 loss on Feb. 17 at the United Center. He’s only the second 18-year-old in franchise history to reach the 20-goal plateau to join Eddie Olczyk on that list.

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A player who has stepped it up this season is winger Drake Batherson.

He went into Wednesday’s game against the Buffalo Sabres with 25 goals and 55 points in 70 games this season. Coming off a three-point effort in the club’s 5-3 win over the Edmonton Oilers on Sunday, interim coach Jacques Martin has been pleased to see Batherson elevate his game.

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Batherson already has passed his career-high total of 22 goals and has 11 games left to keep pushing those numbers.

It’s only appropriate with the Hawks coming to town that after Tuesday’s skate in Ottawa, Martin told reporters that Batherson has the chance to follow in the footsteps of former Senators winger Marian Hossa, who cemented himself as a Hockey Hall of Fame inductee with Chicago.

Last season, Batherson wore the unwanted “Green Jacket” with the worst plus-minus rating on the team at minus-35 in 82 games and he recorded 60 points in that stretch. This year, he has cleaned up his act and went into the game in Buffalo with only a minus-eight rating.

Batherson has suited up for 298 games in his NHL career and should reach the No. 300 milestone Saturday against the Winnipeg Jets.

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“I like how he’s trending. I think he’s trending in the right direction,” Martin said. “He definitely has a lot of skill and ability to make plays. He’s got a good shot and he’s got great speed. With him, it’s about being involved and being engaged.

“He’s improved defensively, as far as reading situations. I talked to him last week about the fact that with his ability to skate he could be a player like Marian Hossa. I thought Hossa was great at coming back, stealing pucks and re-starting an attack. I’m just trying to give him some objectives, but I like how he’s progressing.

“He’s being more responsible by improving his play away from the puck and he’s playing with a lot of confidence with the puck.”

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Martin didn’t make any changes against the Sabres. That meant veteran D Travis Hamonic was a healthy scratch for the second straight game, but he could face Chicago … It will be interesting to see if goaltender Anton Forsberg makes the start against the Hawks. Martin passed on giving him the net against the Oilers in the second of back-to-back games on the weekend and went with Joonas Korpisalo instead. That was the right choice because Korpisalo stole the game with 33 saves.

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