CHICAGO -- Connor Bedard said he was feeling the excitement all day, the No. 1 pick in the 2023 NHL Draft champing at the bit to play again after fracturing his jaw more than a month ago.

“I was pretty antsy all day,” the Chicago Blackhawks center said after he had an assist in a 4-1 loss to his idol, Sidney Crosby, and the Pittsburgh Penguins at United Center on Thursday.

“I was kind of running around all the time. Felt like a kid. I was just excited to get back. I felt, going in, confident.”

The 18-year-old looked confident, too, playing 21:17, most among Blackhawks forwards. He also had four shots on goal -- tied with Chicago defenseman Seth Jones for the game high -- two hits, two giveaways, two takeaways and two blocked shots.

"He looked pretty good for coming off an extended time being injured and getting back into it,” said Crosby, who talked with Bedard some when the two were at All-Star Weekend in Toronto earlier this month. Bedard, selected Jan. 4 for the 2024 Honda (U.S.)/Rogers (Canada) NHL All-Star Game but unable to play, was there as a special guest passer at the NHL All-Star Skills presented by DraftKings Sportsbook the day before.

“He's a special player,” Crosby said. “There are times when it doesn't look like he's got a lot of room and he's making something out of nothing. Yeah, he's dangerous.”

Bedard was injured on a hit from New Jersey Devils defenseman Brendan Smith in the first period of a 4-2 loss at Prudential Center on Jan. 5. He had surgery three days later, and his expected recovery time was 6-8 weeks. The 18-year-old’s return came four days shy of the six-week mark, which would’ve been Monday.

“Just making an entry and the puck kind of bounced and went forward,” Bedard said of Smith’s hit on him. “I saw him, but I thought I’d finish the play and kick it out. Wasn’t really a hard hit, it was clean. It just kind of got me in a spot where it happened to break my jaw. Maybe bail out on the play, but in the moment, you just want to make the play. Unfortunate that was the result.”

Bedard got clearance to play from doctors Wednesday, but the Blackhawks wanted him to get some contact in prior to him playing again. So Thursday, with no scheduled morning skate, Bedard worked with the extra players and coach Luke Richardson, taking his first real contact since sustaining the injury.

So, was Bedard targeting his return for Thursday?

“Personally targeting? Probably earlier,” Bedard said to laughs. “But obviously you’ve got to be safe and smart, and we’ve got good people working (here) and I trust them. They told me I was ready to go today, and I was excited.”

Bedard’s legs were there against the Penguins, given he had been skating since Jan. 15. The shot was there, too. Though he was avoiding slap shots when he first resumed skating -- in the early stages of his jaw healing, it was best if he didn’t clench his teeth -- Bedard has been working on his patented wrist shot for about a month. The full-face shield, which he’s worn for a month and is familiar with from his international play with Canada, didn’t hamper him a bit.

The biggest concern for Bedard was potential physical contact. Outside of taking some when he tried to split Penguins defensemen Erik Karlsson and Ryan Graves in the second period, he avoided a lot of it.

“He tried to attack like he did before he got injured,” Richardson. “He’s ready to play and I think he’s full throttle. So, that’s good. He’ll just have to wear the bubble mask for a while. I don’t know how long but it doesn’t seem to slow him down or bother his vision.”

Bedard looked slightly rusty in the first but was looking like himself by the second. He had the puck more, he was driving the net and he was finding teammates. He found Philipp Kurashev for the latter’s ninth goal of the season at 8:22 of the second.

“Yeah, he made a great play, and it was great to see one go in,” Kurashev said. “Of course, it didn’t matter then, we still lost. But it was nice to see him back and healthy and playing again.”

Bedard had been waiting for this game for a while. He instantly made the Blackhawks a better team. Sure, he was disappointed in the loss. But he’s missed playing, and he’s thrilled to be back.

“Just kind of what I do all the time. I want to play games,” he said. “I mean it's frustrating watching and you can't be out there with your guys and try to help them win and go to battle with them. It's what I love to do and it's all I really want, so it's just nice to be back for sure.” independent correspondent Bruce Miles contributed to this report

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