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The Chicago Blackhawks returned to practice on Monday at Fifth Third Arena after a week-long hiatus due to the bye week and NHL All-Star break, and the storyline at the forefront of everyone's mind continues to be Connor Bedard's timeline.
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Bedard underwent surgery on his fractured jaw on Jan. 8 and was originally put on a 6-8-week timetable. He's been skating for several weeks now and appears to have taken the next step in his recovery process, albeit a minor one.
Bedard skated in a non-contact jersey for a little less than an hour before Monday's practice. After the Zamboni cleaned the ice on the second rink, Bedard made his way over there and skated again for about 45 minutes.
Bedard's overall timeline hasn't changed, but he could start practicing with the team as early as Tuesday, although it would only be for non-contact drills. It's up to the doctors at this point when he could be cleared for contact.
"Connor is about the same timeline as before," Blackhawks head coach Luke Richardson said. "He still has a little ways to go. He has to meet with the doctor weekly, so I'm not sure where that is at yet."
Bedard was seen taking slapshots, so he's certainly hitting some checkpoints.
"I know he was out there longer today," Richardson said. "But I still think the timeline for bones to heal is still not good enough for a game — it doesn't matter if you wear a bubble or not, the bubble can actually hit and it could probably do more damage in more situations than without it. He'll have to get clearance from the doctors for when he can start exerting hard.
"But he's starting to ramp up his conditioning, so that means he's probably able to work harder and clench a little bit more. But I don't know if he's eating handfuls of nuts or stuff like that yet."
Bedard has been lobbying to practice in full.
"I think so, yeah," Richardson smiled. "I try to stay out of there."
When asked whether he's still a ways away from a full practice, Richardson responded: "Yeah, because you turn the wrong way in a D-zone drill and your face is right into someone’s shoulder. We won’t be allowed to do any of that, as much as he wants to. That’s a doctor’s call, so that keeps all of us out of it."
Bedard didn't participate in the NHL All-Star Game on Saturday, but he did show up for the weekend festivities and made an appearance during the Skills Competition, where he was a guest passer for the one-timer event.
Bedard told the Sportsnet panel on Saturday that he feels "good" and "ready" and that if it were up to him, "I would've been back." He acknowledged, however, that "of course, I've got to make sure it's healed and make sure you're not risking anything out there."
So how are the Blackhawks' doctors measuring Bedard's progress and when he could be cleared for contact?
"They do scans," Richardson said. "They do X-rays and bone scans and they can see cloudiness and stuff. I’m sure there’s a way to know if there’s a big enough percentile that it's as strong as it was or stronger than it was before.
"I think he's just feeling good that he got to participate in the All-Star game. It was great to see him there. That's a great experience for him. I know it wasn't full-fledged, but it was still nice to see him out there, mingling with the tops of the league. It's a really good experience."