Ray Ferraro has one request for the much-anticipated NHL debut of Connor Bedard with the Chicago Blackhawks against Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins as part of an opening night tripleheader on ESPN and ESPN+ on Oct. 10 (8 p.m. ET).

“I hope (Chicago’s) Luke Richardson and (Pittsburgh’s) Mike Sullivan, the two coaches, can lose the strategy and let Bedard and Crosby face off on the first (puck) drop,” Ferraro said Tuesday during a Zoom discussion promoting the start of the NHL season on ESPN. “I would love to see that. I just think it’s an amazing image of a brilliant star in Crosby and the next brilliance in Bedard.”

Ferraro, who will be the color analyst on the Blackhawks-Penguins telecast at PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh, was joined in the ESPN discussion by play-by-play announcer and studio host John Buccigross, reporter Emily Kaplan and coordinating producer Linda Schulz. Kaplan will be with Ferraro in Pittsburgh along with play-by-play announcer Sean McDonough on opening night. Buccigross will do the play-by-play call when the Nashville Predators visit the Tampa Bay Lightning at Amalie Arena (5:30 p.m. ET) for the first game of ESPN’s tripleheader, which concludes with the Vegas Golden Knights raising their 2023 Stanley Cup banner before hosting the Seattle Kraken at T-Mobile Arena (10:30 p.m. ET; ESPN, ESPN+).

“The lineup is great,” Schulz said. “The fact that at 5:30 there’s a happy hour in Tampa and Tampa is totally embracing the fact that we’re having early hockey, we’re looking forward to that. Chicago-Pitt, this is going to be great. Connor Bedard hitting the scene against his hero, Sidney Crosby, is just fantastic. And then a banner-raising ceremony to cap this off in Vegas against the Kraken, which is just incredibly fun.”

The showdown between Bedard and Crosby is the marquee matchup. Crosby will begin his 19th NHL season, and the 36-year-old center is driven to help the Penguins get back to the Stanley Cup Playoffs after they failed to qualify last season for the first time since his rookie season of 2005-06.

Bedard, the No. 1 pick in the 2023 NHL Draft, is expected to follow in Crosby’s footsteps as the League's next generational player.

The Blackhawks are counting on the 18-year-old center to make an immediate impact. Chicago was 26-49-7 and tied the Columbus Blue Jackets for 30th in the League with 59 points last season.

“The expectation and the hype seem too much, but if there’s anyone uniquely prepared to handle it, I do think it’s Connor Bedard,” Kaplan said. “Even to see the way that he talks, he’s saying things like, ‘If I make the team.’ He’s going to make the team. He’s the best player on the ice. That just shows how dialed in he is and he’s just so present at the task at hand and I think that’s what’s going to make him poised for success.”

Check out best NHL rookie debuts ahead of Bedard's

In the first game of the day, the Predators will visit the Lightning, who will look to rebound after losing to the Toronto Maple Leafs in the first round of the playoffs last season following three consecutive trips to the Stanley Cup Final and winning the Cup in 2020 and 2021.

But Tampa Bay will begin the season without goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy, who is expected to be sidelined for the first two months after having back surgery Thursday. Being without Vasilevskiy, the 2018-19 winner of the Vezina Trophy as the best goalie in the NHL, to start the season could make qualifying for the playoffs a challenge with up-and-coming teams such as the Ottawa Senators, Buffalo Sabres and Detroit Red Wings each expected to make a push.

“Now that Vasilevskiy is out two months, with these young teams coming, if they don’t build up an equity of points in these first two months, as we know, it’s hard to come from behind after (U.S) Thanksgiving with three-point games,” Buccigross said. “So that’s going to be a big storyline.”

The Golden Knights will raise their first Cup banner after they defeated the Florida Panthers in five games in the 2023 Stanley Cup Final. Vegas kept most of its roster intact with the goal of repeating as champions.

“As far as repeating, I think it’s incredibly difficult,” Ferraro said. “But I just don’t know why anyone would think that Vegas isn’t one of the frontrunners to win. That team is big and deep. … It’s crazy to think maybe, but for me I think there’s another gear there in Vegas, if health stays.”

The Oct. 10 tripleheader begins a slate of 100 regular-season games scheduled to be broadcast exclusively on ESPN, ESPN+, ABC and Hulu, which also will carry the 2024 Stanley Cup Final. The networks also will be home to the 2024 NHL All-Star Weekend at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto, including the 2024 NHL All-Star Skills presented by DraftKings on Feb. 2 (7 p.m. ET; ESPN, ESPN+) and the 2024 Honda NHL All-Star Game on Feb. 3 (3 p.m. ET; ABC, ESPN+).

The 2024 Navy Federal Credit Union NHL Stadium Series at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey, featuring the New Jersey Devils against the Philadelphia Flyers on Feb. 17 (8 p.m. ET), and the New York Rangers against the New York Islanders on Feb. 18 (3 p.m. ET), also will be shown on ABC and ESPN+.

Another highlight to ESPN’s broadcast schedule is the Frozen Frenzy on Oct. 24, during which all 32 NHL teams will be in action. That includes three exclusive games on ESPN and ESPN+: the Maple Leafs at the Washington Capitals (6 p.m. ET), the Boston Bruins at the Blackhawks (8:30 p.m. ET), and the Philadelphia Flyers at the Golden Knights (11 p.m. ET).

The other 13 games that night will be available on ESPN+, most with 15-minute staggered start times, so there will be continuous game action throughout the night. Fans can follow it all on ESPN2 with a studio show hosted by Buccigross that will provide highlights and live look-ins on every game from 8-11 p.m. ET.

“I’m sure everyone is familiar with (NFL) Red Zone. This is our version of that,” Schulz said. “We worked all summer long to figure this out with our programming team and with the League. All 32 teams will play that night. … You will see every goal. You will see every power play. You will see every hit.”

Related Content