The 2023 NHL Entry Draft is a good ways away, but it is already generating quite the buzz within the scouting sphere; this is due to the fact that there are already at least three sure-value picks in that draft class; Matvei Michkov, at 16 years of age, is already over a point per game in the MHL, Russia’s U20 junior level. Adam Fantilli, who is competing at the United States Hockey League (USHL) level for the Chicago Steel, is also putting up decent numbers – 33 points in 45 games, against players up to 21 years of age.
And then, there’s Connor Bedard.
The 15-year-old became the first Western Hockey League (WHL) player to ever be granted exceptional status to play major-junior hockey at 15 years old, and only the eighth player in Canadian Hockey League (CHL) history to receive the distinction, with the likes of Connor McDavid, John Tavares, Aaron Ekblad, and Shane Wright (draft-eligible in 2022, projected first-overall). Despite his age, however, Bedard is currently leading the WHL in scoring through 15 games; this article will serve to break down exactly how special his season is shaping up to be, based on what we’ve seen so far.
Unprecedented point production
First and foremost, Bedard’s ability to fill the scoresheet is something the WHL has rarely ever seen from seniors in recent years, let alone a player who required special permission to play in that league at his age. In fact, his average of 1.87 points per game so far surpasses 19-year-old Adam Beckman’s WHL-leading 1.69 in 2019-20, and eclipses Connor Mcdavid’s 1.05 points per game in the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) in 2012-13, back when he was also a 15-year-old CHL freshman. It is worth noting that the OHL is also a notoriously high-scoring league, whereas the WHL is the most defensively tight of the three Canadian major-junior leagues. Here’s how the most notable exceptional status centers compare in their respective rookie seasons:
|Exceptional player (rookie CHL season)||Goals/Game||Assists/Game||Points/Game|
|Connor Bedard*, WHL||0.80||1.07||1.87|
|John Tavares, OHL||0.69||0.49||1.18|
|Shane Wright, OHL||0.67||0.47||1.14|
|Connor McDavid, OHL||0.40||0.65||1.05|
Bedard is scoring at a record-breaking pace at 15 years old; never has a player his age even set foot in the WHL, let alone been in contention for the league’s scoring race. He is currently trailed by top 2021 Draft-eligible prospect Dylan Guenther, who earned first place in our 2021 Draft Top 5 Goalscorers list, and other notable first-round picks from 2020 and 2019 such as Peyton Krebs, Jake Neighbours, Ridly Greig and Ozzy Weisblatt.
Of his 28 points this season, 16 were assists, and 15 of those were primary (via Pick224), which means that 27 of his 28 points so far have resulted directly off his stick, either via a goal or a direct assist. This indicates a high rate of play-driving, which can be easily spotted by watching any of his games this season. He takes the puck himself to where it is most lethal, forcing defenders to back off and benefitting from the space to either find a teammate or surprise the goaltender, as he did in his first WHL goal.
The most impressive part of Bedard’s play so far is the fact that he just ended a 12-game point streak to start the season, which would be impressive for any freshman, let alone a 15-year-old. He then remained pointless for one game, and immediately followed it up with a four-point performance against Swift Current, and then a two-goal performance two days after losing his grandfather in a fatal car accident, in his final game of the WHL regular season.
Bedard’s ability, at such a young age, to dominate the opposition in his first-ever games against players much older than him, and then to bounce back wonderfully after adversity, be it a scoreless game or a tragic loss in the family, should not be overlooked. His consistency stems from an impressive ability to find space where few can, retaining puck possession through a sea of sticks, a barrage of body checks, and coming out of the chaos with control of the puck and looking immediately to play it into dangerous ice. He contributes on breakouts and has the foot speed and engine to maintain a 200-foot, three-zone effort with regularity.
Offensively, Bedard simply seems head-and-shoulders above the competition; his playmaking is dynamic and proactive, as he finds seams before they happen and zips hard, tape-to-tape passes to his teammates. His shooting is mechanically sound, as he uses strong foot-to-foot weight transfer and downforce to create a rapid, unpredictable release. His stickhandling is possibly the best in his draft class, his positional awareness is already NHL-level, and his puck retention, forechecking and vision are all high-end tools that make for possibly the most valuable offensive toolkit of the 2023 NHL Draft.
Bedard truly shows dominance in every tool to look for in a prospect, on top of being quite strong already at 5-foot-10, 179 pounds. In his first-ever WHL game, he came face-to-face with Montreal’s most recent first-round pick, Kaiden Guhle, who can hit like a National Hockey League player, at the offensive blue line near the right boards:
All things considered, Bedard is looking to be the best prospect since at least Auston Matthews’ selection at first overall in 2016; the 2023 NHL Draft is already overflowing with high-end talent, and we could very well see mass fire sales at the trade deadline akin to Buffalo’s race to the bottom in 2015, which landed them Jack Eichel. Whatever ends up happening from here until his draft day comes around, Bedard has definitely proven that he can not only keep up with older, stronger competition, but actively thrive against them; his talents should definitely carry to higher levels, and he is shaping up to be the runaway first-overall pick in a draft that is already showing an impressive array of elite-potential prospects.