Connor Bedard is unlike any other prospect in hockey history
Since Connor Bedard was granted exceptional status into the Western Hockey League in 2020, the young phenom has been unfairly compared to those of NHL prestige and honour.
Not unfair like it put too much pressure the projected first overall pick in the 2023 NHL Draft, but unjust in the sense that elements of his game have surpassed what his predecessors can be or will ever be. The North Vancouver, British Columbia product is coming off a season of accolades and mind numbing numbers to wrap up his junior hockey career. Bedard had 71 goals and 143 points in 57 games for the Pats, only missing time in the WHL lineup to play for Canada at the World Juniors, where he amassed nine goals and 23 points in seven games for gold. Bedard was held off the scoresheet in the first game of the WHL season before putting up a 35-game point streak that was finally snapped on February 3 after having netting 44 goals and 46 assists over the year.
He ended the regular season with only five games where he didn’t register a point, and Bedard was named the Player of the Year in both the WHL and Canadian Hockey League.
What sets him apart from the rest
There are a lot of things that make Bedard the elite prospect he is.
He has one of the best shots in hockey, can play a deceptive game with the and without the puck and can be relied upon on both sides of the puck. But his strongest asset, according to FCHockey regional scout Joel Henderson, is the adaptability in Bedard’s game.
“Some players are a square peg in a square hole and some players are a round peg in a round hole, this is what they are, this is where their strengths are and his is how you win with them,” Henderson says.
“The reason Connor is so elite is because he can be a square peg, round peg, a triangle, an oval at the change of a dime. If you need him to just be the puck transport and neutral zone puck mover, he will do it with utter efficiency. If you want him to touch the puck and you just need him to be the one time shooter on the half ball, 100 percent. If you need him to switch and play more rugged defense, if you need him to care a little bit more about that, he can give you a bit more physicality and really use his skating to get in the way, he can do that.
“That’s what makes him so special to me because there are so many players you can look at and say, ‘here’s the square peg, if we can block the square peg we’ve got him figured out,’ and Connor can just go, ‘well I’ll change my game.’”
Why he’s NHL ready
Almost every projected No. 1 pick has had some doubters questioning whether or not they will be able to make the jump from their junior league into the NHL and perform at a high level.
Some first overall picks like Sidney Crosby, Connor McDavid, and Auston Matthews perform right away and leave the doubters behind. Others, like Jack Hughes and Nico Hischier, take a couple years to develop into their roles before reaching that top tier level. There’s also the players who prove the skeptics right, like a Nail Yakapov for example, who never succeeded the expectations placed upon him when selected with the top pick in 2012.
What Bedard’s final season in the WHL did is allowed him to experience the pressure of being ‘the guy’ for the Regina Pats, the player that when push came to shove, was expected to score.
Henderson says there’s no hiding how good he is and because of that, he will be able to weather the storms of being that relied upon, first overall pick talent.
“He felt the pressure now on a team he was the best player on ad going to the NHL level, there’s going to be a lot of pressure on him to produce and produce right away,” Henderson offers. “He’ll have his ups and downs just like anybody, but now he kind of understands that sense of, ‘we really need you to go out and make something happen.’
“Yeah. As he goes through that, and it doesn’t have to happen in year one, but in the first five years he’ll round out and he’ll adapt, his defensive game will come along, he’ll learn the right balances and the team will get complement players and they’ll get a better roster.
“He’s going to join a team that’s well outside of the playoffs. So it’s great to think it sets him up to understand that he can be okay with the pressure.”
When making comparisons with previous first overall picks, like Hughes and McDavid, Henderson says the biggest standout for players of that magnitude is staying healthy and maintaining pace when they make the jump to the NHL level — something he expects Bedard to take in stride, like he has every other challenge throughout his young but promising career.
“They’re high flying players putting themselves in huge positions to score against guys that are, 6-foot-5, 240 pounds on the defensive end,” Henderson says. “They make their adjustments but the biggest thing is just to continue to learn how to play at the pace.
“And the reality is, it hasn’t taken Connor long at any level to learn how to play at the pace.”