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Who should be Blackhawks' next captain, and when is right time to give it to Connor Bedard?

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Chicago Blackhawks GM Kyle Davidson announced before the 2022-23 season that there would be no captain for at least one year. It was the right decision as the organization prepared to identify its next leader of the new core.

Plus, Jonathan Toews held that title for a decade and a half and wore the 'C' as well as anyone in franchise history. There was no point in naming a new captain immediately after Toews' Blackhawks tenure came to an end.

"The only plan right now is to sort of just let it breathe for a year," Davidson said on Sept. 19, 2023. "We came off such a successful tenure with Jonathan that, a little bit of it is just out of respect for Jonathan, to not fill that spot right away.

"And the other part is not to put that pressure on someone else when you're coming out of a period of such, call it greatness, right? You want the next person to be in a position to succeed. There's no requirement to have a captain, and so we just felt that it was best to leave that, push that decision a little bit, we'll let the chips fall where they may.

"Over the next year, we'll see who emerges, see what the best option is, and decide next year if it's appropriate to name someone. We'll just take that as it comes."

It's pretty obvious who the long-term captain is going to be for the Blackhawks. It's Connor Bedard's team moving forward, and he possesses all the qualities you're looking for in a leader. He says the right things and leads by example, both on and off the ice.

The question is, when is the right time to give it to Bedard? He played his entire rookie season at age 18 and doesn't turn 19 until July 17, which means he'll play another full season as a teenager.

For context, Toews was named the Blackhawks' captain at 20 years and 79 days old, which made him the third-youngest captain in NHL history at the time. Toews laughed when we chatted last season about him being named captain at such a young age.

"I was really young when they named me captain and it's just a funny thing to think about," Toews told NBC Sports Chicago on Jan. 16, 2023. "There's not a lot of sports where you're wearing a C on your sweater and it's out there for everyone to see.

"To a certain degree, there's a lot of ways in which you're under a microscope, not only to the fans and the media but to your own teammates, and I think I was just one of those young kids that took it very seriously and I wanted to do everything in my power to help the team win and I also wanted to be a good captain. I took that pretty seriously on my shoulders.

"Obviously I had a lot of help over the years but definitely felt a lot of the pressure with the ups and downs. There was some good, some bad there, but it was all a great learning experience and I think when you're under that pressure for a long time you learn a lot about yourself."

I've always felt the Blackhawks would keep the captaincy vacant until Bedard is ready, but with Nick Foligno having emerged as the de-facto captain this past season and the veteran signing a two-year extension with the Blackhawks, perhaps it makes more sense to slap the "C" on Foligno's chest for the next two seasons to bridge the gap.

Martin Lapointe served as the Blackhawks' captain for just one season in 2007-08, which was the rookie campaigns of Patrick Kane and Toews. His influence on that group is still occasionally brought up to this day.

When Toews was named captain, the Blackhawks had most of the puzzle pieces in place and were entering their championship window. The Blackhawks aren't close to being there yet, which makes the situation with Bedard a little different. There's no rush to name him the captain when the focus right now is on development and laying the right foundation.

Foligno didn't seem to have an opinion one way or another on whether the Blackhawks needed a captain or if a committee-type approach works best for the short term.

"That's a hard one for me to say," Foligno said. "I think if you're a true leader, you're just going to do what you do, the way you need to do it, and not worry about titles. I don't really think that really matters to me. At the end of the day, we're a team that needs leadership, where we need to just point in a direction and push to go there. But I think it can be done collectively. It can be done with the right mindset of every guy.

"I was really impressed with some of the guys stepping up in leadership roles this year when they had to. And how I’ve been in that role a long time in my career, it's encouraging to see that we have those type of players on this team. So I'm excited about that part at least. I feel like we have some good pieces in place, so I'm not too concerned about captain right now, I'm more thinking about the group."

In his exit interview, Davidson said he wasn't sure yet whether the Blackhawks would have a captain next season.

"I think we're going to figure that out over the summer," Davidson said. "Kind of let this year sort of decompress and then have that conversation in the summer months."

The Blackhawks could theoretically roll with three alternate captains until they feel it's the right time to give it to Bedard, but there's going to be a point where a primary voice is needed for the younger players to look up to.

Foligno serving as the bridge captain would also help take some of the spotlight and pressure off Bedard, who wouldn't have to feel the additional weight of being the captain that follows Toews.

Having said all that, Bedard is mature beyond his years, and he's going to make a great Blackhawks captain one day. He'll be ready for the responsibilities whenever it does come his way. It's only a matter of time.

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