Connor Bedard is among elite company with World Juniors showcase
Wayne Gretzky. Eric Lindros. Sidney Crosby. Connor McDavid.
And, now, Connor Bedard.
Bedard, a potential No. 1 pick for the 2023 NHL Draft, is the seventh player to be selected to play for Canada at the World Juniors as a 16-year-old, joining Gretzky (1978), Lindros (1989), Jason Spezza (2000), Jay Bouwmeester (2000), Crosby (2004) and McDavid (2014).
“It’s pretty crazy to hear myself with those guys,” Bedard said. “I think just dreaming of playing in this tournament and obviously getting the opportunity at the age I am, that is pretty special. Hearing my name in the same sentence as those guys is pretty crazy.
“I wasn’t trying to put too much pressure on myself given how much talent there is in the country and how many guys could be on this team. It’s just a dream come true, and coming into the camp I really wanted to make it.”
And now all eyes will be on him at the 2022 IIHF World Junior Championship.
Including some of his own teammates.
“He’s a great player,” Canada defenseman and Detroit Red Wings prospect Donovan Sebrango said. “ I’m not sure what he’s ever going to do. He’s got a wide range of skill and different tools he can use. It’s definitely challenging. He keeps you guessing. He’s a great player and he’s got a great toolbox.’”
Fans will get their first up-close look at Bedard, who plays for the Regina Pats in the Western Hockey League, on the big stage.
But scouts won’t.
They’ve been following Bedard long before his trip to his biggest stage to date.
He was the seventh player to be granted exceptional status into the Canadian Hockey League, joining John Tavares in 2005, Aaron Ekblad in 2011, McDavid in 2012, Sean Day in 2013, Joe Veleno in 2015, and Canada teammate Shane Wright in 2019.
Bedard became the first player to be granted exceptional player status into the WHL in March 2020.
Early prognostications peg Bedard as a potential franchise-chasing pick come 2023, though even he wants to temper some of those lofty comparisons to some of hockey’s most popular names.
“It’s pretty cool,” said Bedard, who had 84 points (43 goals, 41 assists) in just 36 games with West Van Academy Prep as a 14-year-old playing in the CSSHL’s U18 circuit.
“I’m young and McDavid is like two points per game in the [NHL], so that’s definitely high expectations. It’s definitely pretty humbling to hear my name in the same sentence as those guys. It’s definitely pretty cool.”
The 2022 World Juniors shouldn’t be the barometer to measure Bedard’s future success, though. He’s one of three 16-year-olds to participate in the tournament.
The youngest to suit up, too.
There’s no guarantee either on how he’ll be deployed by Canada coach Dave Cameron, either.
“People are right to keep their expectations low about Bedard at the World Juniors, not because he doesn’t have the talent to play in the first line, but because we don’t have any assurances about his deployment,” Saskatchewan-based FCHockey scout Joel Henderson said.
“He will have his moments in the tournament though.
“That I almost guarantee.”
It’s not hard for Henderson to feel that way.
He’s seen Bedard, who will indirectly battle Russian forward Matvei Michkov for the top spot in the 2023 draft, up close.
Bedard has scored 24 points (14 goals, 10 assists) in 24 games for Regina this season, after amassing 28 points (12 goals, 16 assists) in 15 games as a 15-year-old last season.
He didn’t just make a ripple in junior hockey in Western Canada.
He made a splash.
Bedard made another at the 2021 IIHF World Under-18 Championship last spring, where he shredded the competition to the tune of 14 points (seven goals, seven assists) in seven games. He had a goal and an assist in a 5-3 win against Russia (and Michkov) to clinch gold for Canada.
“I think Bedard did everything he could have and more at the U18s,” Henderson said. “That was a statement tournament for him to prove the height of his potential.”
Now Bedard is back on the international stage, in what is sure to be a memorable debut at this level.
For those watching him.
For him, too.
“Obviously it’s a dream come true,” Bedard said. “Growing up watching the tournament every Christmas…and being able to have the opportunity to play in it is pretty crazy.
“It still feels very surreal.”