Blackhawks’ Connor Bedard to return vs. Penguins after jaw surgery: Source

Blackhawks star forward Connor Bedard has been cleared by doctors after undergoing successful jaw surgery and the team is planning for him to play against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Thursday, a team source confirmed.

Bedard was expected to be out approximately six to eight weeks after the surgery in Chicago, team physician Dr. Michael Terry announced on Jan. 10.

Bedard — the No. 1 pick in the 2023 draft — fractured his jaw on Jan. 5 in New Jersey when Devils forward Brendan Smith stepped into Bedard as he crossed the blue line on a power-play rush. The Blackhawks placed Bedard on injured reserve the following day.

On Thursday, the team appeared to tease Bedard’s imminent return with a video posted on social media.

The Blackhawks are 14-36-3 and host the Penguins (23-20-7) at 8:30 p.m. ET at United Center in Chicago.

Are the Blackhawks rushing Bedard back?

From the outside looking in, it feels that way considering everything Blackhawks coach Luke Richardson said in the last month about wanting to first get Bedard into non-contact practices and not accelerate any of the recovery steps. Richardson said earlier this week Bedard probably wouldn’t be cleared for contact until next week, making it unlikely he will play in their next three games.

But within, the Blackhawks discussed whether there was any real benefit to Bedard practicing before playing in a real game. They ultimately decided there wasn’t because it’s not as if he’s going to face real contact in practice. The idea of him taking contact in practice is all nice and good, but the reality is the type of hit Bedard got injured by or anything close isn’t what is doled out amongst teammates. Especially with Bedard, there isn’t anyone who would want to be responsible for him getting hurt again. And from a playing-shape standpoint, the Blackhawks have zero concern. Bedard has been training on and off the ice consistently since his surgery. — Scott Powers, Blackhawks senior writer

What does getting Bedard back mean for the Blackhawks?

Goals. Precious, precious goals.

The Blackhawks have scored just 20 goals in 14 games since Bedard was injured — and that’s with two four-goal games mixed in. They’ve been shut out four times in that span, and have scored just one goal five other times. Bedard is the only true reliable scoring threat on the team; he still leads the Blackhawks in points with 33 and is still just one-off Jason Dickinson’s team lead of 16 goals even after missing more than a month.

He won’t singlehandedly fix the Blackhawks’ offensive woes, but he certainly gives them more of a fighting chance. Goosing ticket sales will be a bonus for the Blackhawks, who’ve managed to keep the United Center mostly full in Bedard’s absence, but who are coming off a Vancouver game attended by 16,452, their second-smallest crowd of the season (the smallest also came during Bedard’s injury, last month against San Jose). — Mark Lazerus, Blackhawks senior writer

Required reading

(Photo: Michael Reaves / Getty Images)

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