The 2023 Top Prospect and consensus number-one draft pick, Connor Bedard, is in the midst of his first Western Hockey League (WHL) playoff series. I happened to be in the building to watch Game 2 of the opening-round series between the Regina Pats and Saskatoon Blades. It was my first time watching Bedard play live, and he did not disappoint. In fact, he put the underdog Pats on his back, leading them to a 2-0 series lead with a 6-5 overtime win.
Bedard Has Calming, Confident Presence to Him
From the moment he stepped onto the ice for warm-ups, Bedard never showed any sense of nerves in front of yet another sold-out crowd. “From the age of three on, Connor always had a ball and a hockey stick, he would be stickhandling in our open kitchen, ruining the flooring, and he’d do it for hours,” his father, Tom Bedard, said (from ‘Connor Bedard: From a young age, he was determined to be a hockey star,’ Toronto Sun, Jan. 3, 2023). Now years later and wearing the “C” with a laser-sharp focus, Bedard, perhaps reminiscing those days of constantly stickhandling through the family home, skated back and forth through the neutral zone handling the puck with similar precision seen by Connor McDavid or Patrick Kane in his prime.
When firing pucks on the net in warm-ups, not once did he miss, showcasing his world-class shot by going bar down nearly every shot. Back at his North Vancouver family home, Bedard would often be found in the backyard perfecting his shot for hours and hours at a time. To this day, he continues to work on his shot while firing hundreds of pucks in a single session. “From the bantam ranks, I began to study NHL players, look at their throwing techniques. Then I tried to recreate certain varieties of training,” said Bedard, whose super elite shot draws comparison to that of Toronto Maple Leafs’ superstar Auston Matthews.
As he skated around the ice throughout the pre-game warm-up, the Top Prospect seemed to bring a sense of calmness to his teammates. Although they entered the series as the underdog, The Pats had already won Game 1 of the series, with Bedard registering two goals and one assist in a 6-1 win over the Blades. Once again, the 17-year-old looked driven and poised to put his team on his back in the night’s contest.
Bedard All Over the Scoresheet, Again
Following the opening puck drop at the SaskTel Centre in Saskatoon, it didn’t take Bedard long to make an impact in the game. He picked up a secondary assist on the first goal of the game just over five minutes into the opening frame. The generational talent then scored his first goal of the game, and the Pats took a 2-1 lead heading into the first intermission.
Just 14 seconds into the second period, Bedard was given an unsportsmanlike penalty as he slammed on the binders directly in front of the Blades’ goalie, Austin Elliot, spraying snow into the goaltender’s face. Perhaps a move of gamesmanship, it clearly got under the skin of his opponents.
The Blades tied the game at two shortly after killing Bedard’s penalty. The star drew another penalty to the Blades after catching a stick in the face. On the ensuing power play, he had a primary assist on a Pats’ power-play goal. Although his shot is the main focus, he also puts his elite playmaking skills on display on the man advantage. While playing at the top on the umbrella formation, he quarterbacks the power-play unit creating many high-danger scoring chances.
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Once again, the Blades were able to draw even, although Bedard broke the tie with his second goal of the game late in the second period. Despite being outshot 27-13, the 17-year-old continued to carry his team with his offensive performance. With two goals and two assists, Bedard led the Pats to a 4-3 lead going into the second intermission.
In the final frame, the Blades scored two unanswered goals to take a 5-4 lead into the final 10 minutes of play. Bedard refused to go down without a fight and evened the game with his third goal of the night. While being positioned in the right place at the right time, he jumped on a juicy rebound and fired the puck into the back of the net. The game would require overtime to decide a winner, and early in the extra frame, Bedard was on the ice again as his team scored the winning goal. He finished the game with three goals and two assists, as while as two penalty minutes. Evidently, the generational talent got under the skin of his opponents as he directly drew two penalties in the game.
Bedard Comes up Clutch In Biggest Moments
It seems an early characteristic of his career is his ability to come up clutch in the biggest moments. Through his first two career WHL playoff games, he now has five goals and three assists as he hopes to lead his team to a potential Memorial Cup run.
He also showcased his ability to somehow find another level during his two appearances with Team Canada at the World Junior Championships (WJC). In the 2022 WJC, which was rescheduled due to COVID-19 and played out in Aug. 2022, Bedard had four goals and four assists in seven games en route to a gold medal win.
His performance this winter at the 2023 WJC was nothing short of legendary. Despite being held off the score sheet in the gold-medal game, he made history by scoring nine goals and 14 assists for 23 points in seven games. His 23 points in the most by a Canadian player in the history of the tournament. He also broke the Canadian record for most goals (17) and points (36) all-time at the tournament. He surpassed Jordan Eberle’s mark of 15 goals at the tournament and Eric Lindros’ longstanding record of 31 points.
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In a post-game interview after winning the gold medal, Bedard also showed his character and that with all the hype surrounding him ahead of this year’s NHL Entry Draft, his ego remains in check with a team-first mentality. “I don’t want to talk about myself right now, We’re not talking about me. We just won the biggest tournament in the world, and, man, I love this team, this country.” Bedard, the tournament’s most valuable player, told TSN.
Bedard Is the Real Deal
After finally getting to watch the heavily hyped Top Prospect in person, he left no doubt that he will transition into becoming the next big thing at the NHL level. In fact, Bedard has already taken to the ice with the likes of McDavid and Sidney Crosby at the 2022 BioSteel NHL Camp. Even the best player in the world had praise for the 17-year-old who is drawing so many comparisons to himself. “He’s quiet off the ice, but, as soon as he gets on the ice, he’s right at home. He’s not afraid to take guys on, and he’s going to be a real good one,” McDavid said.
When McDavid was asked if he could see any similarities between the two, he replied saying he did, but Bedard has more confidence in himself than he did at that age. “He was at the BioSteel camp, going on a two-on-one with Sidney Crosby, and he’s shooting the puck and not sliding it over. I’m not sure I would have done that at that age, but he’s got a lot of confidence, and he’s going to be a good one.”
Director of Central Scouting Dan Marr agrees that Bedard draws similarities to McDavid, saying, “The quickness with which he can execute and process the game, the quickness with his skill set, at the same age, it’s right up there with Connor McDavid.”
The Best Is Yet to Come
With all the attention he has been getting ahead of the draft, it’s only fair to say the best is yet to come for the phenomenal talent. His No. 98, a number he’s worn since the age of 5, will become one of the highest-selling NHL jerseys for the lucky franchise that wins this year’s Draft Lottery Sweepstakes.
For now, hockey fans should embrace watching what the future star in the WHL playoffs, as Bedard resumes his opening-round series tonight in Regina for Game 3 of the best-of-seven series.