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Connor Bedard: The Unbearable Wait of Massive Talent

Connor Bedard's offensive splendor has already been on display for two full seasons in the WHL, but he's still a year away from going No. 1 in the 2023 NHL draft.
Connor Bedard

Despite the sky-high expectations that came with being the first WHL player to earn exceptional status, Connor Bedard managed to live up to the hype – and then some.

The Regina Pats center was an offensive whirlwind this season, becoming the first WHLer to score 50 goals in his age-16 season since Glen Goodall notched 63 in 1986-87. Bedard ended his campaign with 51 to go along with 100 points in 62 games. As a 15-year-old, Bedard’s rookie year was limited to 15 games during WHL’s 24-game pandemic schedule, played entirely in a bubble in Regina. So given that he got ripped off on his exceptional-status season, it’s pretty amazing he was able to hit the scoresheet so hard in 2021-22. “This season has been a real test,” said Regina assistant coach Brad Herauf. “Last year, we were in the bubble, and it was pretty much a home game. Everyone was feeling good, and they didn’t have the rigors of going to school or riding the bus for a couple of hours and then having to perform. What he did last year was impressive, but to see him do it in a season with all the variables has been really impressive.”

With nearly two points per game in the 2020-21 bubble, Bedard had already served notice heading into this season, but the spotlight from opponents definitely got hotter. “It’s definitely more attention,” Bedard said. “Coming into last year, I didn’t have much of a start, and then it picked up. Right from the start this year, it’s been a lot of different line matches and playing against a lot of really good players, so it’s been tougher that way.”

There’s also the fact he was the Pats’ undisputed offensive engine: Regina had only two NHL-drafted prospects in the lineup this season and both were defensemen, Seattle second-rounder Ryker Evans and Columbus third-rounder Stanislav Svozil. Bedard did find a great running mate in fellow 16-year-old Tanner Howe, but Bedard was always front and center, which can be challenging for a youngster. “He has high expectations of himself, and he comes prepared every day,” Herauf said. “The way he shows his frustrations is something we’ve talked about this year. He’s a highly competitive kid, and we haven’t won as many games as he’s used to. There are a lot of eyes on him, and his actions matter not only to the team but to the public. At 16 years old, that’s a lot to ask, but he’s very mature and very aware of his situation and the expectations that come along with it.”

Not only did Bedard experience his first real WHL campaign, but he also made Canada’s World Junior Championship team and impressed during the tournament’s limited run in Alberta. The fact the IIHF has scheduled a do-over this summer was music to the youngster’s ears. “The whole team is pretty excited to go back and compete for a gold medal,” he said. “To have that dream fall short in December, it’s exciting to get the chance in August.”

The Pats did not make the WHL playoffs, so Bedard continued his international duty by joining Canada’s under-18 squad in Germany, where the team lost to Finland in the quarterfinal round – a disappointing follow up to its gold-medal win in 2021.

But, of course, the true Connor Bedard experience comes not through a listing of his accomplishments but in watching what he does on the ice. His creativity and ability to execute skills at such a high level are what sets him apart from his peers. So what exactly is the kid looking for when he brings the puck into the offensive zone, with defensemen tracking his every micro-movement? “I just react to what they give me,” Bedard said. “When you come into the zone, you have a little bit of a plan, but if you’re reading off what they’re doing, it’s a lot easier to find space for yourself and create chances.”

Bedard watches a lot of hockey when he’s not on the ice, and he tries to pick apart the games of NHLers to see what he can add to his own arsenal. One of his current offensive inspiration is Toronto’s Auston Matthews because of the way the Leafs center shoots the puck. On the defensive side, Bedard is watching a trio of constant Selke Trophy faves in Aleksander Barkov, Patrice Bergeron and Anze Kopitar. And the elevated way Bedard processes the game is something his coaches are still getting used to. “It’s his instincts and how he understands the game,” Herauf said. “Sometimes I’ll think he’s maybe cheating or cutting a corner, but he has a thought behind all his actions. He’s very calculated in how he wants to go about his business. He wants to be coached, and his ability to take information and translate it to the game is impressive.”

And with one more season in Regina before he ascends to the top of the 2023 NHL draft board, look for Bedard to do a lot more impressing in the next 12 months. 

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