Connor Bedard’s highlight reel has been hard to miss.
Already the presumptive first overall selection at the 2023 NHL draft, the 17-year-old phenom with a bullet shot and an ability to make the puck look like it’s on a string – often leaving defenders chasing shadows and goaltenders looking foolish – has taken his game to new heights this season.
Video of his jaw-dropping skill splashes across social media on what feels like a near-daily basis. And there’s almost certainly going to be more viral clips when Bedard takes centre stage with Canada at the 2023 world junior hockey championship later this month.
His exploits have also already entered the NHL conversation.
“We have guys in the Kings dressing room talking about him like, ‘You get to play with Bedard kid,’” said Canadian defenceman Brandt Clarke, who was loaned to the men’s under-20 national team by Los Angeles for the tournament.
“I’m not going to name anybody.”
So, was the teammate in question Kings defenceman and noted hockey geek Drew Doughty?
“(He) did say that, actually,” Clarke, 19, added with a laugh. “(Bedard’s) already getting that kind of recognition.”
With good reason.
Coming off a 51-goal, 100-point performance at age 16 for the Western Hockey League’s Regina Pats in 2021-22, the silky smooth centre from North Vancouver, B.C., has gone next-level this season.
Bedard was held off the scoresheet in Regina’s opener, but has scored 27 times and added 37 assists since as part of an outrageous 27-game point streak.
Before joining up with Canada, which will be looking for its 20th gold medal when the world juniors open Dec. 26 in Halifax and Moncton, Bedard had five points in an 8-2 victory last weekend.
Canadian world junior hopeful and Seattle Thunderbirds goaltender Thomas Milic was asked about Bedard’s shot.
Turns out he has first-hand experience from the WHL this season.
“It’s pretty, pretty, pretty good,” the 19-year-old said with a smile. “There’s a picture online where the shot was taken and I’m still looking for it and it goes right by me.
“Hopefully that one doesn’t circulate too much.”
During one recent on-ice session at Canada’s world junior selection camp in Moncton, a simple rush drill saw Bedard effortlessly collect a wayward pass by drawing the puck between his legs up to his stick without breaking stride – one of countless subtle moments that feel ordinary, but certainly aren’t.
Shane Wright, the No. 4 pick by the Seattle Kraken at the 2022 draft, said Bedard has teammates in awe.
“Such a good player, but you’d never know,” said the 18-year-old centre, who was also loaned to Canada for the tournament. “Such a down-to-earth guy and such a fun guy to be around.
“He cares about taking care of himself properly and cares about his game. We see the talent on ice, we see the moves he makes and all the clips, but there’s so much that he does off camera – behind the scenes – that allows him to be that good and be that successful. He’s incredible.”
One of 10 returning players from Canada’s gold-medal winning roster that won the reimagined August world juniors pushed back eight months following a series of COVID-19 outbreaks that shelved last year’s event, Bedard is a lock after working hard to earn a spot 12 months ago.
But he taking nothing for granted.
“Always want to come in with that tryout mentality,” said Bedard, the first player granted exceptional status to play in the WHL a year early at age 15. “Still trying to prove myself and show everyone here what I can do.”
What he’s done over the last few years – Bedard even travelled to Sweden during the pandemic to train and find games when the WHL shuttered operations – is demonstrate a drive and determination that mirrors his talents.
“A player that wowed us last Christmas, a player that wowed us in the summer,” said James Boyd, a member of Canada’s management group. “He’s got the game-changing ability. What’s exciting is that he’s a better player now.”
Director of player personnel Alan Millar said the next step is honing his play without the puck.
“When you get into those key games, matchups are important,” Millar said. “The offence and a skill, we all know. But I think you’ll see a young man whose game has matured and is that much more complete.”
While that’s been a point of emphasis, Bedard is doing his best to keep draft talk at arms length.
“You have such a big focus on winning,” he said. “That’s outside noise. I’m so focused on the room with the Pats and here with the Team Canada.
“It’s pretty easy to block that stuff out.”
Adam Fantilli, a freshman forward at the University of Michigan expected to be in the conversation for the No. 2 spot at the draft, and Bedard are friends off the ice.
The pair watched Regina’s game Friday when Fantilli couldn’t get Michigan’s matchup against Michigan State on his laptop.
“Great guy,” Fantilli said.
“It’s kind of funny when people put us against each other,” Bedard added. “We joked about it a bit, but we’re both cheering for each other and now we’re on the same team.”
Hockey’s next big talent – Bedard has been compared to Connor McDavid in terms of what he might do to alter an NHL’s franchise future – is just getting started.
And already a big talking point across the sport.
“He’s as advertised,” Clarke said. “He’s so smart with the puck, his released is unmatched.
“I’m really looking forward to the rest of his career.”
The next step is trying to secure another gold on home soil.
Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press