As a lifelong fan of the game, Petr Jakub loves what Matvei Michkov and Connor Bedard are doing at the World Under-18 Championship. As the coach of the national team from the Czech Republic, well, seeing two of the most talented teenagers on the planet do their work was something of a nightmare. Nobody in this tournament, at least to this point, has been victimized by the Bedard and Michkov tandem more than poor old Petr Jakub.
Three days ago, Jakub’s team was taken to the woodshed by the Russians to the tune of 11-1, with Michkov scoring three goals and an assist. And in the quarterfinal of the tournament Monday night, his team was blasted 10-3, with Bedard exploding for two goals and three assists. Have we mentioned that Bedard and Michkov are 15 and 16 years old, respectively, and won’t be eligible for the NHL draft until 2023?
“That’s why I love this game,” Jakub said. “I got to see them from very close, even better than from the stands, from the bench.”
To say that Bedard and Michkov have become a major storyline in this tournament is selling short what these young men are accomplishing. They are the talk of the tournament, and they should be. No matter what happens in the semifinal and final games, the enduring memory of the 2021 World Under-18s will be how these two players served notice to the world that they are poised to dominate the game at this level, and presumably beyond.
All Michkov has done so far is lead the tournament in scoring with 10 goals and 12 points in five games, including a ‘lacrosse’ goal against Germany in a game in which he scored four goals. Thanks to his breakout performance against the Czechs, Bedard has three goals and nine points. And when they weren’t lighting it up in this tournament, they were doing so in their own leagues. Playing for St. Petersburg in Russia’s junior league, Michkov had 35 goals and 52 points in 50 games, while Bedard was leading the Western League in scoring with 12 goals and 28 points in 15 games for the Regina Pats.
This championship is always about the countries and the teams involved, but for scouts and a lot of hockey observers, it’s a measuring stick by which they gauge future greats. And playing above their age groups, both have delivered. This is the first time Bedard has represented Canada, so it’s very much about playing for his country, but he’s also taken notice of what Michkov has done so far. “Michkov has nine (goals), so that’s not bad,” Bedard said. “Obviously, that’s an unreal player and I think we’ve been compared in the past, and in the present. Being compared to him is special and it’s really cool to see, but I’m not really focused on that too much. Maybe we’ll play them, maybe not, but what he’s doing is super special.”
If Canada can beat Sweden, a team it has already waxed 12-1, and the Russians can get by Finland in the semifinal games Wednesday, the two of them will meet for the first time with a gold medal on the line. If it happens, it should serve as a preview of things to come, both in the international arena and the NHL. Who knows, perhaps we’ll have another Sid vs. Ovie on our hands.
Whatever, it’s all just ridiculous, in a great way. Seeing Bedard and Shane Wright, another exceptional player who isn’t eligible for the NHL draft until 2022, sitting together answering questions after the game, you couldn’t help but think you were seeing the future of the game before your very eyes. It’s remarkable, really, how good these young men are.
“Connor Bedard is a 15-year-old playing against 17- and 18-year-olds and it doesn’t faze him at all,” said Canadian coach Dave Barr. “He very seldom looks like he’s panicked. For an offensive player, he hardly turns the puck over at all. A lot of times, offensive players are taking chances to create offense. He doesn’t really take chances and he makes it look easy, whatever he’s trying to do. And with Shane, when he shoots the puck, he’s deadly. We’re very lucky to have both those guys.”