June 21, 2023

The elements that make Connor Bedard an elite, elite scorer

Connor Bedard, without question or debate, is one of the most exciting prospects to enter the draft since Connor McDavid, and his ability to fill the net is reaching legendary status.

The presumptive No. 1 pick in the 2023 NHL Draft has scored in bunches at every level he’s played at. He scored 64 goals in 30 games as a 13-year-old at the U15 level, leading the league with a 22-goal gap over second place. He then took on the challenge of jumping to the U18 level during his Bantam draft year as a 14-year old, again finishing first in the league in scoring with 43 goals in 36 games against players up to three years older than him.

After becoming the first player in the Western Hockey League to receive exceptional status, Bedard made the full-time jump to the junior ranks at 15 and scored 12 goals in 15 games during a shortened season. He followed that up by becoming the youngest 50-goal scorer in WHL history, netting 51 snipes in 62 games as a 16-year-old.

Bit of a pattern.

And the hype could not have been louder coming into the 2023 draft campaign, yet Bedard managed to exceed even the highest expectations. His 71 goals in 57 regular-season WHL games in 2022-23 was 21 goals clear of second-best despite playing five-to-10 games less than most of the other top end players in the league. He continued to light the lamp in the playoffs where he almost single handedly dragged his Regina Pats team to an upset of the Saskatoon Blades with 10 goals in just seven playoff games.

Mixed in with his WHL play have been various tournaments where he donned the maple leaf for Team Canada. He became the seventh Canadian to make the World Junior roster at 16 — following in the footsteps of names like Wayne Gretzky, Sidney Crosby, and McDavid — while bringing home a gold medal. He then again made history this past World Juniors as he absolutely torched the competition with nine goals and 23 points in seven games, breaking the Canadian record for most points at the tournament and leading them to back to back gold medals en route to becoming the IIHF’s inaugural male player of the year.

One could write a novel detailing Bedard’s accomplishments and accolades

One could do the same simply focusing on his goal-scoring abilities. His final tally, after all, over 141 WHL games was 144 goals, and his log over 25 games with Team Canada reached 26 goals.

After examining every goal Bedard scored this season, here are the tendencies and habits that make him such a prolific goal scorer.

Deliberate Use of Traffic

Bedard’s shot is as potent a weapon as I have ever seen from a draft-eligible prospect, and he can truly score from anywhere on the ice. His release, velocity, and accuracy are all world class, however as I went through all his goals the thing that stood out to me the most was how infrequently he was shooting from open ice. With his awareness, footwork, and stick skills, Bedard has all the talent in the world to generate separation and open looks yet instead time after time he seems to invite pressure before shooting through coverage.

Look at his movement in this clip. He picks up possession wide, with the opposition defender deep and a teammate screaming in to create an odd-man rush. Most players would stay wide to increase the angle, gain a clean look at net, and keep the passing option open. Bedard, on the other hand, cuts inside immediately and skates directly at the defender before wiring a quick wrist shot through the defender and past the goalie.

As good as Bedard’s shot is, he still understands that the best goalies in the world are going to able to stop what they cleanly see and therefore he works to manufacture traffic for the goaltender at every turn. There is a clear confidence from Bedard that the tradeoff of upping the difficulty in getting his release off by welcoming defensive pressure is worth the benefits of an uncomfortable goalie trying to pick the puck through shins and sticks.

Bedard’s confidence is not unfounded either, as I’m not sure there is a better player on the planet at getting his shot through sticks and bodies.   

Look at this clip here where Bedard knows exactly how to position his frame and where to pull the puck to find the gap under the defenceman’s stick and into the top corner. This also serves as a hint of how deadly he can be when he utilizes a quick toe drag into his release.

This ability to toe drag into his release aids in his ability to pull the puck into bad sightlines for the goaltender while also drastically changing the release point, leaving the goalie way out of position if he reads it poorly.

Look how far out the Blazers goalie must reach in that last clip to try and catch up to the shot. There was no lateral passing movement to carry the goaltender that far out of position — only Bedard’s drag and release. This talent is something that Auston Matthews has mastered at the NHL level, but I’d argue that Bedard may be even more proficient at in terms of both finding the lane through to the net and in the magnitude of the changed release location.

Rinse and Repeat.

Accuracy and Net Awareness

Another area that I find fascinating when comparing Bedard’s goals side-by-side is how different his approach is with space or when facing down a goalie one-on-one. The clips of Bedard firing bullets through traffic all tend to have long broad stick strokes as he finds the right release point. On the flipside, when bearing down on a goalie cleanly, accuracy and placement with a quick, short release seems to be his approach.

In this clip you can see that there is barely any load held in Bedard’s lower body, with the shot coming quickly from his hands alone. Instead of a focus on the power of the shot he is only concerned with placement once the goalie commits.

Another common pattern as Bedard approaches the net is his laser focus on the goaltender. In this next clip he again approaches the net directly, with his head up, and his stick open before he finds the hole he likes and snipes it exactly where he intended.

Bedard’s deliberate visual rundown of goaltenders weakness as he approaches the net in open ice is a great habit to have and one that is fairly easy to emulate in theory, however his ability to execute what his mind processes is what separates him from most of his peers.

This type of play is one that many players envision, few attempt, and fewer still pull it off while making it look easy.

In addition to his accuracy, I find that Bedard’s general net awareness and instincts for what the goalie will do are also at an elite level. This next clip is one of my favourite goals Bedard scored this season, as it shows just how comfortable and in control Bedard is when it comes to putting the puck in the back of the net.

As he cuts across the with his head up gauging the bodies tumbling in front of him while also showing an innate understanding of how the goalie will be tracking laterally, he knows he has already scored before he even shoots the puck. Softly laying the puck into the top corner was a mere formality.

Off Balance and Unexpected Timing

When dissecting Bedard’s shot, another area where he shows a unique awareness is his understanding that you don’t need to unleash a bullet or pick the tiniest corner if the goalie is not expecting a shot in the first place. His ability to mess with a goaltender’s timing by shooting at surprising moments adds yet another layer of danger to his game.

This shot is a great example of where he prioritizes the timing of getting the puck off his stick over a prototypically strong shooting position. His weight is shifted so far forwards after his move around the defenseman that he can’t stay upright, let alone put his weight into the shot, but he knows that the fraction of a second he’s saving by not regaining his balance is the difference between the goaltender getting set or not. It is yet another example of his net awareness as well.

His move from out to in changes which side of the screen the goalie must look from, and that moment of transition is when Bedard strikes.

This type of goal is a common one in Bedard’s repertoire as he has a knack for knowing when a goaltender is late to get set and beating him to the punch. There is no dusting of the puck or ensuring a clean reception — it is on and off his blade as fast as humanly possible. He again shows that it’s not always about getting the best shot off; it’s about getting the shot off at the right moment.

This is one of my favourite examples as his feet are pointed towards the far left corner of the rink, yet he has the flexibility to direct the puck into the far right corner of the net. He has time to set his feet, but then so would the goalie, so instead he lays out to get the shot where it needs to be before the goalie can react and get set.

It’s easy to showcase these examples and wonder why other players are not utilizing these funky timing and off balance scenarios as effectively as Bedard but it certainly isn’t as easy as he makes it look at times.

Those instincts are borderline impossible to teach and from a technique perspective there aren’t many players in the world that could get the puck up that quickly and accurately while being an active victim of a can-opener.

Fear Factor

The last and probably most unique to Bedard trait relating to his shot is something that I simply title ‘fear’ in my game notes.

In more elaborate terms, Bedard’s goal-scoring prowess is so well known — so focused on by the opposition, and so feared that he, more than any other player I’ve ever seen, baits countless obscene overcommitments by defenders and goalies alike in service of getting in the way of his shot. Players selling out to block his shots and goalies flying way out of their net to cut down the angle are cracks in the defensive armour for Bedard and his patience and ability to recognize those moments is what makes him so dangerous.

He is a volume shooter without the braindead instincts of a volume shooter. He is never looking to force things and is always willing to defer, delay, or dangle if the opposition gets too aggressive.

Worried about the one lane so you leave your feet to block that shot? No problem, he’ll calmly step around you into the new better lane.

If this piece was looking at the assists he got this season, I could fill a dozen clips of him calmly recognizing the flying bodies coming his way and finding his open teammate for an easy tap-in.

Hands in Tight

While Bedard’s shot rightly gets the headlines, there are many examples this season of his quick hands and soft touch in tight areas. He has the ability to score from distance but he certainly isn’t stapled to the perimeter. Plenty is made of Bedard’s limited size but I have yet to see him struggle to get inside positioning, and his ability to fish pucks out of traffic combined with his sense of timing makes him deadly on rebounds and loose pucks around the net-front.

In this clip, the puck hitting his stick comes as a bit of a surprise but he is able to out-react the goaltender and maneuver the puck into the net.

The poise and net awareness he shows when shooting from distance does not deteriorate when battling at the front of the net. Even when he is under duress, Bedard still shows the wherewithal to be deliberate with his timing as seen in this next clip where he waits until the five-hole opens to make his move.     

His touch when deking at the net-front combined with his ability to shoot and score at will also makes him the deadliest breakaway player I’ve ever seen. Every breakaway feels like an inevitable goal and this forehand-backhand-forehand move seems to be his go-to if he chooses to deke.

Razzle Dazzle

Lastly, no superstar would be complete without a killer highlight reel of him making defenders look silly, and Bedard has no shortage of options to choose from. Whether he’s using the threat of his shot to freeze a defender before walking around the goalie.

Going between the legs before showing his soft touch at the net.

Or powering through two defenders before picking a corner in tight.

Bedard has something for you.

He is the single most advanced goal-scorer that I’ve ever had the pleasure of scouting in my region, and his ability to beat you in a myriad of ways makes him a player that will be nigh impossible to truly shut down. I touched on a few of the tendencies and shortcuts he uses to bury the biscuit, but part of what makes him so dangerous is his ability to read and react and create based on what is given to him. His world class shot is such a singular talent that it would be enough to get excited about on its own, but the fact that his mind is also so naturally and instinctually geared towards scoring makes him a potentially generational goal-scorer at the NHL level.

He has quickly become the premiere scorer at every level he’s played at.

I don’t expect that will change as he transitions to the NHL. I’m excited to see just how high his numbers can get. 

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