Bedard impresses NHL stars ahead of World Junior Championship

The 2023 IIHF World Junior Championship is scheduled for Halifax, Nova Scotia and Moncton, New Brunswick from December 26 to January 26. 5. Today, we feature Canadian forward Connor Bedard, the projected No. 1 pick in the 2023 Upper Deck NHL Draft.

Patrick Kane skated with many of the game’s top players when he attended the BioSteel Sports NHL camp in August.

The player who impressed him the most, however, is still not playing in the NHL.

“I skated with Connor Bedard this summer and I was with some of the best in the NHL, and he was the guy that stuck with me,” the Chicago Blackhawks forward said. “I think the hype is real. I think he’s going to be an amazing player.”

Bedard (5-foot-10, 185 pounds) is the projected No. 1 pick in the 2023 NHL Entry Draft. He will also be the primary offensive weapon for Canada at the 2023 IIHF World Junior Championship, which runs from Dec. 26- Jan. 5 in Halifax, Nova Scotia and Moncton, New Brunswick.

The 17-year-old is expected to play as a right winger in a line with a centre Shane Wrightthe No. 4 pick by the Seattle Kraken in the 2022 NHL Draft and left wing Brennan Othman (New York Rangers) in a tournament made up of the best under-20 players each nation has to offer.

Canada plays its first game of the tournament against the Czech Republic at the Scotiabank Center in Halifax on Dec. 26 (6:30 p.m. ET; NHLN, TSN).

“[Bedard] he thinks the game at such a high level,” Wright told TSN. “He can make plays. He is a fast skater. He can shoot the puck. It can do almost anything. It’s definitely a lot of fun to play with, that’s for sure.

“His physicality, his bench protection, is something a lot of people talk about a lot. He’s not the tallest guy, but he’s strong. He’s got a very strong lower body and he can protect the bench very well . He can play against the other big defenders in corners and they play low.”

Bedard, a right-handed shooter, had eight points (four goals, four assists) in seven games to help Canada win the 2022 WJC in August. He was the seventh 16-year-old selected to play for Canada at the WJC, joining Wayne Gretzky (1978), Eric Lindros (1989), Jason Spezza (2000), Jay Bouwmeester (2000), Sidney Crosby (2004) and Connor McDavid (2014).

Kane had 145 points (62 goals, 83 assists) in 58 games with the London Ontario Hockey League in 2006-07 and was selected No. 1 by the Blackhawks in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft. He won the Calder Trophy as Rookie of the Year in NHL in 2007-08.

Bedard leads the Canadian Hockey League with 64 points in 28 games and the Western Hockey League in goals (27) and assists (37) despite not playing for Regina since Dec. 4.

“Bedard envisions himself looking like Kirill Kaprizov (Minnesota Wild),” NHL Central Scouting director Dan Marr said. “Both elite talents, but he reminds me a lot of Patrick Kane. Just the speed, the speed, those big, timely goals when needed, and the accuracy to finish in the game or generally create scoring chances when you need them.

“And the fact that he goes out there and makes it look so easy.”

Kane had 72 points (21 goals, 51 assists) in 82 games as a rookie with the Blackhawks, but said it took him a few NHL seasons before he finally began to rediscover his scoring ability. He expects it will be no different for Bedar.

“When I came in … I was a scorer in junior and after my first few years in the NHL I was more of a playmaker,” Kane said. “The moves you did in junior might work, but you don’t have that extra step, so if you go up against a guy and beat him, he might catch up and have to come up and hit the late guy or something instead of taking it to net as you did in junior.

“I think closing down the space is probably the biggest thing, and once you realize that, maybe it’s more of a delay or giveaway-go game … you kind of develop it as you go along.”

Bedard has a point in 27 straight games, the longest streak in the WHL since Brett Lesson of Prince Albert had a 30-game hitting streak in 2018-19.

“His shot is incredible,” New York Islanders forward Matthew Barzal he said. “He’s coming off so hot. I’ve really never seen anything like it. Obviously [Auston Matthews] rips the elf; I’d say that’s the only shot I could compare it to.”

Bedard could become the second player from Regina to be selected No. 1 in the NHL draft (Doug Wickenheiser, Montreal Canadiens, 1980). The last WHL player selected No. 1 was a forward Ryan Nugent-Hopkins of Red Deer by the Edmonton Oilers in 2011;

“He’s going to play a role where he’s going to play against other teams’ top players,” Canada director of player personnel Alan Millar said. “Knowing the defense and working and tracking and all that stuff is going to be important, and he knows that. He’s prepared for it. You’re going to see a Connor Bedard that has matured as far as that complete game.”

Bedard said, “I’ve been skating with NHL players for a while now and it gives you confidence that you’re not going through a 2-on-1, which you probably should. going to Toronto and watching Connor McDavid work out (in camp BioSteel), it just makes you feel comfortable. It’s just human beings who are incredible in a sport. It’s that part that’s fun and that helps confidence.”

United States general manager John Vanbiesbrouck believes Bedard is the next generation of talent to enter the NHL.

“You’ve got to love watching Conor Bedard play,” he said. “I mean, you totally respect that. No doubt Connor is a generational talent that will be fun to watch in the National Hockey League. We just don’t want to see too many snaps of him in the next few weeks (during the WJC).”

Photos: Keith Hershmiller, Regina

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