Connor Bedard Is Your Shitty Team’s Savior
2:12 PM EST on January 3, 2023
Connor Bedard's performance in a rapturous Canada win over Slovakia in the quarterfinals of the World Juniors on Monday would have had people raving even if it weren't attached to the consensus No. 1 pick in the next NHL Draft. But because it was, and because his two goals made the 17-year-old the most prolific Canuck in the history of this tournament, it sweetens the incentive even more for desperate fans of teams at the bottom of the NHL to hope they stay there for the rest of the year.
Bedard, born in Vancouver in 2005, has been a guy for even semi-casual observers to follow for almost three years now, when he became the Western Hockey League's first-ever "exceptional status" player at age 15. This meant Hockey Canada believed he was so good for his age that he should be allowed to play at the major junior level, which is usually reserved for ages 16–21. "Exceptional status" is a big deal—it's handed out less than once a year—and while not every player who's received it has immediately taken a linear path to greatness, it did mark Bedard as a prodigy in the vein of previous exceptions like John Tavares and Connor McDavid.
This happened in March 2020, so Bedard's opportunities to play got a bit complicated from there, but he won Rookie of the Year with the Regina Pats in a very short first season in the WHL, then exploded for 51 goals and 49 assists in a 62-game follow-up campaign. On the international stage, he was equally undeniable, and the more people see his quickness, his intelligence, and his absolute dream of a shot, the more ready they seem to anoint a new Hall of Famer. I don't have a crystal ball, but it's a plain fact that he's a once-in-a-generation teenage hockey player.
Monday was a crowning achievement—dramatic record-setting on a big-time stage that, for the first time since 2020, hasn't been disrupted by COVID. First, in a massive moment that would nevertheless shortly be overshadowed, he broke three separate records held by Jordan Eberle, Eric Lindros, and Dale McCourt/Brayden Schenn when he coolly finished in close after a turnover.
Asked about the goal at intermission, he seemed, frankly, baffled that he had to talk about it.
But his play on the ice speaks for itself. Slovakia came back from 3-1 down and rode stellar goaltending to force overtime. But in 3-on-3, Bedard proved himself unstoppable. Treating two defenders like they were practice cones, he moved to his right, moved to his left, and then baffled the man with the big pads to seal a victory for Canada in front of a molten-hot Halifax crowd. This is how you become a star.
Is Bedard the best prospect since Matthews? Since McDavid? Since Crosby? GMs are lining up to sing his praises. I'm as swept up in the hype as anyone—who doesn't love a brand-new awkward teenager who can put the puck in the net at will?—but the NHL is not exactly set up to give its brightest young talents an easy situation in which to succeed. While the lottery does leave open the possibility that Bedard could get picked first overall by a fringe playoff misser, it's far more likely that this kid goes to a team with many, many problems. The frontrunners are Chicago, who has won just two games since Nov. 12; Anaheim, who has a goal difference of minus-70; and Columbus, a disaster this year even after they signed the most coveted free agent on the market.
A part of me really wishes Bedard could just slot into, oh I don't know, the New Jersey Devils and wreak early-career havoc as support for Bratt, Hischier, and Hughes. But instead he will be tasked with injecting life into a team that has none. The nature of hockey means this is not something he can accomplish singlehandedly—Regina finished 27-36-3 in that 51-goal season of his.
But the beauty of falling face first into premium talent means that nobody has to care about the hard part yet. If you're a fan of a team that sucks right now, you can talk yourself into believing that every loss is a step forward, every mistake a savvy play for the future. And when you watch Bedard make the older teens look silly, you don't have to think to yourself, "Well we also need a better coach and a younger defense and a goalie who's not in his own head all the time and—" Shhhhhh. Just take a deep breath and gawk at the boy with the magic shot.
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