“He’s a special player who can change the game with one play. He just came into the camp and said ‘you’ve got to put me on the team.’”
That’s what Allan Millar, one of Canada’s management leads, had to say about Connor Bedard making the cut. Coming into camp, the 16-year-old phenom was told he would have to force his way onto the roster.
When the coaching staff made their final decision Sunday, leaving Bedard off just wasn’t an option.
The inclusion of Bedard is quite special. The only players to have made the Canadian world junior team as a 16-year-old are Bill Campbell, Wayne Gretzky, Eric Lindros, Jason Spezza, Jay Bouwmeester, Sidney Crosby and Connor McDavid. To say what Bedard accomplished just by making the roster is special would be an understatement, and the young star knows it.
“It’s a dream come true," expressed an ecstatic Bedard. "To finally hear that I made it is definitely pretty surreal. They came to our doors and told us there and you couldn’t believe it. It was a long wait.”
The dynamic young forward plays the game at an insane pace, pushing the tempo of the game to a level that many players can’t keep up to. His understanding of the offensive side of the game makes him a challenge for any player at the junior level. Bedard is highly intuitive in his processing of the game. Pairing his mind with an incredible set of wheels and hands that can keep up makes stopping Bedard an arduous task.
The challenge for Bedard is that he knows with the talent level throughout the Canadian U-20 lineup, he has to be more than just an offensive dynamo. He needs to be a complete player.
“Obviously I want to be a goal-scorer and be able to produce offensively but there’s so many guys here who can do that, so I kind of have to kind of find the thing that separates me to be able to make the team,” he said.
At just 5-foot-9 and 180 pounds, there is some worry that Bedard may struggle with the physicality of playing against bigger, stronger and more mature players. It has been one of the primary reasons that the Regina Pats star wasn’t a lock for the team despite his obvious talent level.
Playing in both games against the USports all-stars was a requirement for Bedard and he did everything in his power to ensure that he earned his shot. Bedard led all skaters with six points through the two games - no other player had more than two.
His play away from the puck is where Bedard’s performance really seemed to matter. Not one to lay hits, Bedard consistently competed in puck battles, outworking his opposition along the wall and finding teammates to outlet the puck to. His anticipation in the neutral zone showed up particularly well in the second game, intercepting multiple passes and turning play around, driving positive results.
Bedard is used to playing above his age group and has for some time now. Whether it be the U-18 World Championship last year where he finished tied for the Canadian lead in scoring and second at the event overall or playing in the Swedish J20 Nationell during the pandemic, Bedard is used to this. He was granted Exceptional Status in the WHL, the first player in the west to be given the honour, and was absolutely phenomenal during his age-15 season.
“I knew a lot of guys coming in so it’s been pretty comfortable," Bedard said about entering camp. "It’s been cool seeing the talent and skating with the best guys in the country and players that have played in the NHL and a lot of first-round picks."
The decision to put Bedard on the team was a no-brainer. He is one of the team’s most dynamic and lethal offensive players. Bedard’s cerebral mind and blitzing approach to the game is what makes him special. The work is far from over for the young standout, though: since he's the youngest player on the team, he'll need an even stronger camp to push himself out of one of the bottom lineup spots.
Bedard will have opportunities to do so in both practices and games as the group will take on Switzerland, Sweden, and Russia in pre-tournament action. Bedard is likely to factor into those games in a key way as he looks to find his place in the lineup. If the display he put on at evaluation camp is any indication, expect the budding superstar to put on a show.