Connor Bedard debut: How Auston Matthews, Sidney Crosby, past No. 1 picks have played in first NHL game

It’s been a long time since hockey fans have been this excited for a rookie’s debut. 

The wait is finally over, as Connor Bedard is set to play in his first NHL game Tuesday when the Blackhawks open the season in Pittsburgh against the Penguins. 

The No. 1 overall pick from 2023 is considered to be the next superstar in the NHL. Bedard has dominated every level he has played, from the WHL to U18s to World Juniors. Now he has a chance to shine on national television in his first professional game. 

Recent No. 1 overall picks in the NHL have not come flying out of the gate. Devils center Jack Hughes (2019) and Rangers winger Alexis Lafreniere (2020) each took seven games to record their first NHL point. Canadiens power forward Juraj Slafkovsky (2022) required five.

Sabres defenseman Owen Power (2021) made his NHL debut late in the season after his NCAA career at Michigan ended, and was held pointless in his first game. His fellow Buffalo blue liner, Rasmus Dahlin (2017), did not record a point until his fifth contest. 

So it’s been quite some time since fans have been treated to a stellar debut. Could Bedard change that?

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Here is a look at some of the best NHL debuts out of recent No. 1 overall picks. 

NHL debuts of past No. 1 overall picks

Auston Matthews, 2016

It’s very likely that we will never see a skater have as strong of an NHL debut as Matthews did in 2016. 

The Maple Leafs star had tons of hype surrounding him when he was taken first overall by Toronto, and he delivered right away. Matthews needed less than 10 minutes before he found the back of the net, and he doubled down less than five minutes later, scoring two goals in his very first period in his NHL career. 

The American wasn’t done. On his first shift in the second period, Matthews completed the hat trick by sending a shot through the legs of Senators goalie Craig Anderson. He became the fourth player to score a hat trick in an NHL debut, joining Alex Smart (1943), Fabian Brunnstrom (2008), Derek Stepan (2010) and Ryan Poehling (2019). 

Still, it wasn’t enough for Matthews. The Toronto center became the first skater ever to pot four goals in a debut when he scored with three seconds left in the second period. Despite his effort, the Maple Leafs lost 5-4 to the Senators. 

Matthews’ historic start to his NHL career was a sign of things to come, as the Hart Trophy and Rocket Richard winner has become one of the best players in the league, and arguably the greatest pure goal scorer in the game right now. 

Connor McDavid, 2015

McDavid’s debut was … actually quite quiet. He had a strong showing for the Oilers in his first game, but the No. 1 pick from 2015 was held off the score sheet. The center had two shots on goal in 18:07 of playing time in a 3-1 loss to the Blues. 

It took three games before McDavid found the back of the net, and the rest is history. The Edmonton captain is hands down the top player in the league, and it doesn’t appear as though he’ll be losing that title any time soon. 

MORE: Ranking the NHL’s top 50 players for the 2023-24 season

Nathan MacKinnon, 2013

MacKinnon was the youngest player in Avalanche history to make his NHL debut when he began the 2012 season with the team. The 18-year-old proved age was just a number. 

The Colorado star recorded two assists in his first professional game, setting up Jamie McGinn twice in a 6-1 win for Colorado over Anaheim. MacKinnon even got into his first NHL scrum, throwing a couple of punches at Ducks defenseman Ben Lovejoy during a second period skirmish. He was hit with a roughing minor as a result. 

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, 2011

Nugent-Hopkins is not one of the first names you think of when you hear, “No. 1 pick.” The 2011 first overall selection was the second of three No. 1 picks that Edmonton made from 2011 to 2013, and the only one still remaining on the team. 

In his debut in 2011, Nugent-Hopkins played a critical role for the Oilers in a 2-1 shootout win over the Penguins. With less than five minutes left in the third period, the Edmonton forward tied the contest at 1-1 when he put home his own rebound. 

John Tavares, 2009

Before Tavares joined the Maple Leafs in free agency during the 2018 offseason, he was the longtime star of the Islanders. New York took the center with the first pick in the 2009 draft, and Tavares was just as advertised. 

Tavares put up a goal and an assist in his NHL debut. He helped set up a Mark Streit 5-on-3 goal in the first period before burying a backhand on the power play in the second period. 

The Islanders draft pick had five points in his first three NHL games, and lit the lamp three times in his first five contests. 

Sidney Crosby, 2005

Crosby’s NHL debut wasn’t a wild one like some of the others on this list. The Penguins lost 5-1 to the Devils on opening night of the 2005-06 season. 

However, “Sid the Kid” contributed to Pittsburgh’s lone goal of the game, helping to set up a Mark Recchi power-play tally in the third period. 

Crosby had a six-game point streak to start his NHL career, and had points in nine of his first 10 pro games. He ended his first month in the league with two goals and 12 assists, good for 14 points in 11 games. 

MORE: Connor Bedard season props, Rookie of the Year odds

Alex Ovechkin, 2004

While Ovechkin was drafted the year prior to Crosby, the 2004 NHL lockout meant we had to wait a bit longer before Capitals fans could see the entertaining Russian talent. Ovi did not disappoint. 

It wasn’t Ovechkin’s cannon of a shot that grabbed people’s attention first. Instead, it was a thunderous hit laid on Blue Jackets defenseman Radislav Suchy on his first shift that brought fans to their feet. 

However, the Russian superstar wasn’t only going to show off his physicality. Ovechkin potted his first NHL goal in the most Ovechkin way possible — a one-timer on the power play. He followed it up later in the period with another power-play tally, this time coming off a backdoor feed. 

The Capitals went on to win 3-2, thanks in large part to the sensational play of the rookie. Both of Ovechkin’s goals came less than 90 seconds after the Blue Jackets had taken a lead in the game. 

Like Crosby, Ovechkin wasted no time getting used to the NHL. The Russian had at least one point in each of his first eight games, potting six goals during that span. 

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