Connor Bedard is a special hockey player

Connor Bedard is not Team Canada’s 13th best forward. Not even close.

After scoring a hat-trick at the age of 16, Bédard, the tournament’s youngest player, showed a worldwide hockey audience what made him the first – and to date, the only – player to win. exceptional status in the WHL. And he is now only the second player behind Wayne Gretzky to score a hat trick at 16 in the top junior world championship thanks to a four-goal effort in an 11-2 win over Austria on Tuesday.

“Obviously it’s pretty cool to hear your name with this guy,” Bedard said of his arrival as Gretzky in the Canadian history books, becoming the youngest Canadian to win a six-month treble.

Former THN senior writer Ken Campbell wrote about Bedard when he was just 13. He was already making comparisons with Sidney Crosby and Connor McDavid at the time. These feelings only got better over time and he had to deal with the time lost due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

And it’s like he’s never lost a step. Sure, he scored three goals against Austria, but there is a good thing that we have years of footage of Bédard to look at and determine that, yes, Bédard is indeed a special player.

Bédard “only” collected 24 points in as many games before the selection camp for Canada. But if you didn’t know him before, here’s a bit of background. Bédard achieved exceptional status in 2020 after scoring 43 goals and 84 points in under-18 preschool games in Western Canada. He went on to win gold and was named to the Under-18 World Championship all-star team with 14 points in seven games in the same year he led the WHL in rookies scoring 28 points in just 15 games against a bad Regina Pats team.

So, it’s not like everyone is saying Bédard will be the next McDavid because he’s scored a bunch of goals against arguably the worst team in the tournament. There is more than enough evidence to support the claims.

Canadian coach Dave Cameron said during camp he didn’t want an all-star team. He wanted role players deep in the lineup for the games that needed them, and that’s generally what we see championship teams in this tournament.

But that meant Bedard wasn’t a lock and had to make his way through the team. So, naturally, he led the team by scoring with six points in two games against the U Sports select team and made it impossible for Cameron’s staff to let him out of the squad. But from the start, there was always a feeling that Bédard would be pushed to 13th place, and that’s where he started the tournament against Czechia.

Bédard had just 12:23 of ice time in the first, partly assisted due to power play time after skating just 2:43 in the first and generating an assist. An injury to Xavier Bourgault and a suspension to Justin Sourdif meant Bédard would dress in the fourth row with Elliot Desnoyers and Will Cuylle to start Tuesday’s game. Bedard didn’t play until 2:33 pm Tuesday, but scored on four of his 12 shots and nearly scored a fifth in the dying seconds of the game.

“He’s a great player, I don’t know what he’s going to do someday,” Canadian defenseman Donovan Sebrango said before the start of the tournament. “He has a wide range of skills and different tools that he can use. It’s really a challenge. He lets you guess. He’s a great player and he has a great toolbox.”

Comparisons to McDavid have been rife for years, and Bédard admits it. For a kid his age, he hasn’t been distracted by lofty goals and he focuses on his career aspirations night after night.

“I’m young and McDavid is like two points per game in the [NHL], so that’s really high expectations. It’s really quite humbling to hear my name in the same sentence as these guys. It’s definitely pretty cool, ”said Bédard before the start of the tournament.

Just to compare Bédard, who has five points, to other legendary Canadians who have adjusted to the age of 16:

  • Wayne Gretzky, 1978 – 17 points
  • Bill Campbell, 1981 – 1 point
  • Eric Lindros, 1989 – 4 points
  • Jason Spezza, 2000 – 2 points
  • Jay Bouwmeester, 2000 – 0 point
  • Sidney Crosby, 2005 – 5 points
  • Connor McDavid, 2014 – 4 points

This is damn good.

“Connor doesn’t need my help when the puck is on his stick and he’s in the defensive zone,” Cameron said. “He got exceptional status for a reason … You can’t be an exceptional player without having a high IQ in hockey. He has that, he’s very coachable.”

The standards were not too high for Bédard. Young players rarely get the best opportunities compared to players three years older in many cases. But Bédard didn’t waste a second of his chances in the Canadian roster, even scoring in the exhibition game against Russia. So everything is great at this point, and everything that follows is awesome.

Bedard is not eligible for the NHL Draft until 2023. Matvei Michkov is also highly regarded for this draft, but he has a long-term contract to stay in the KHL. So Bédard definitely looks set to become # 1, and the team that gets him is going to change their franchise for the better.

And just think: we see the start of something special here. And he can come back next year.

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

Yeah, tell that to all the gatekeepers you’ve victimized.

Catherine J. Martinez