Aaron
Vickers
December 28, 2021

‘Exceptional’ Bedard joins Gretzky, Lemieux with World Juniors effort

Connor Bedard went on a World Juniors romp. He joined some elite company as a result of it. 

Bedard scored four goals in an 11-2 stomping of Austria yesterday, tying or setting records established by some of hockey’s most storied names. 

Namely, Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux. 

By finishing his natural hat trick in the second period with a nifty curl-and-drag through the high slot before rifling home a shot top shelf, Bedard became the youngest player ever to net a three-goal outing at the World Juniors for Canada, eclipsing Gretzky’s mark set at the 1978 tournament.

Gretzky was 16 years, 331 days old when he did it. 

Bedard was 16 years, 164 days old on Tuesday. 

“It’s obviously pretty cool to hear your name with that guy,” Bedard said. “Whenever you get that honor it’s pretty crazy and surreal.

“It’s definitely cool just kind of hearing your name with one of, if not the greatest player to ever play the game. It’s just one game. I don’t think I’ll be getting 2,800 points in the NHL. It’s obviously cool though, to hear my name with his.”

That was the appetizer. 

Bedard delivered the main course in the third period, adding his fourth goal of the game — and tournament — to tie Canada’s record for most goals in a single outing. 

 The holder of that record? Lemieux. 

Lemieux was the first to do it in 1983, with the feat being matched by Simon Gagne in 1999, Brayden Schenn in 2010, Taylor Radish in 2016, and Maxime Comtois in 2018. 

It’s not surprising, to some degree. 

Bedard has been joining elite names his whole career. 

Bedard is just the seventh player to play for Canada at the World Juniors as a 16-year-old, joining Gretzky (1978), Eric Lindros (1989), Jason Spezza (2000), Jay Bouwmeester (2000), Sidney Crosby (2004) and Connor McDavid (2014).

The 16-year-old was also the seventh player to be granted exceptional status into the Canadian Hockey League in 2020, joining John Tavares (2005), Aaron Ekblad (2011), McDavid (2012), Sean Day (2013), Joe Veleno (2015), and Canada teammate Shane Wright (2019).

“I like the word exceptional status for players like him that come in,” Canada head coach Dave Cameron said. “He’s an exceptional player. 

“It’s been the number one question I’ve been asked since I’ve looked over this team and I’m sure it’s the number one question of anyone that coaches him is always asked about him. 

“But he’s earned that.”

And all the praise that follows.

“Bedard’s ability to dictate and drive play impresses me the most,” FCHockey scout Mat Sheridan said. “His confidence when carrying the puck into open space and his on-ice awareness really stands out. 

“He consistently makes plays for his teammates and is always in the right place at the right time. Some of the plays he made last night, it’s hard to imagine a 16-year-old being able to do what he can do. For someone his age to be able to do that, it’s special.

“He’s truly such a special player in his own way.”

Exceptional, most would say. 

“Connor doesn’t need my help when the puck is on his stick and he’s in the offensive zone. He has exceptional status for a reason,” Cameron said.

“I have seen improvement. You can’t be an exceptional player without having a high hockey IQ. And Connor has that. He’s very coachable. Yes, I have seen improvement. As an exceptional player, he’s an exceptional kid to coach too because he’s open to it.”

As such, Bedard has long earned consideration as the No. 1 pick for the 2023 NHL Draft, and will likely battle Russian forward Matvei Michkov for the next 18 months to own that crown. 

Handling that, handling the World Juniors spotlight, handling the exceptional journey just seems like second-nature to Bedard, who doesn’t turn 17 until next July. 

It might be the most exceptional element of all. 

“I think it’s mostly my parents and stuff, just teaching me to stay away from that,” Bedard said. 

“I’m 16 and haven’t really done much yet in my career.”

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