The NHL Draft is only one week away, which means that the new teams of some of the best young hockey players in the world will soon be decided. And the great thing about the 2023 NHL Draft isn’t just that we get to see dreams of reaching the NHL realized, but that the 2023 NHL Draft class is one of the strongest draft classes there has been in a while.
The top of the first round has put itself up there with the 2015 and 2016 drafts as the best we’ve seen in the last 15 years. However, there is one prospect that has set himself apart from the rest of the field, even with the amazing talent there is this year. That prospect is none other than Connor Bedard, who may be the most hyped draft prospect in all of sports.
The Best NHL Draft Prospect Ever?
When it comes to draft prospects, no one is getting more hyped up in the mainstream sports media than NBA Draft prospect Victor Wenbanyama. However, there is a certain player in the NHL Draft that might have even more hype surrounding him in hockey circles, and that is 17-year-old center Connor Bedard. Bedard has been on the radar of hockey fans for a few years. He was so talented at a young age that in March of 2020, Hockey Canada granted him a special exemption that allowed him to enter the major-junior level CHL (Canadian Hockey League) a year early.
Bedard is a special talent, and every single NHL Draft ranking has him listed as the number one prospect. Just in this past season, Connor Bedard became the first player ever to win the CHL’s Player of the Year, Top Draft Prospect, and Top Scorer awards in the same season. To add on to that, he also won the inaugural IIHF (International Ice Hockey Federation) Male Player of the Year award. Heading into the draft, Bedard might be even more hyped up than Connor McDavid was heading into the 2015 NHL Draft. And any hockey fan will tell you that McDavid has been by far the best player in hockey in recent years. When you talk about who is the best player in the 2023 NHL Draft, there is no debate.
The Numbers Don’t Lie
At 15 years old, Bedard made his debut in the Western Hockey League (one of the three major-junior level leagues that make up the CHL) with the Regina Pats. Bedard made his debut in the 2020-21 season, which was shortened from 68 games to 24 games due to the pandemic, so it was more considered a developmental season. In 15 games, Bedard put up 12 goals and 16 assists for 28 points. That was second in the league in points per game, behind only Dylan Guenther, who was in his draft year and over two years older than Bedard. In his second season, at 16 years old, he finished the WHL campaign with 51 goals and 49 assists for 100 points in 62 games. That was good enough for fourth in total points and fourth in points per game.
Then in the 2022-23 season, Bedard’s put up 71 goals and 72 assists for 143 points in just 57 games, leading the entire CHL in points and goals. He also led all WHL players by margins of 36 points and 21 goals. Bedard averaged 2.51 points per game this past season, which led the WHL. Also, for the first time in his career, the Regina Pats made the WHL playoffs, meaning Bedard would get to play playoff hockey. Although the Pats only lasted seven games, Bedard put up 10 goals and 10 assists for 20 points for an average of 2.86 points a game, putting him far and away in first place for points per game in the playoffs (2.14 points per game was the number two scorer).
A Star On The Global Stage
Another thing that Bedard has going for him is his performance in the World Juniors, also known as the U-20 World Junior Championship. In the 2022 World Juniors, Bedard was the youngest player on the Canadian team by almost two years. The original 2022 World Juniors tournament got postponed in the early stages due to COVID issues, but Bedard put up a goal and four assists for five points in the two games Canada played. However, those games technically don’t count. In the actual 2022 World Juniors, which took place in the summer instead of the normal late December-early January time frame, Bedard ended up with four goals and four assists for eight points in seven games. That put Bedard tied for eighth in the tournament, which was exceptional for someone much younger than his competition.
In the 2023 World Juniors, Bedard took his game to a whole different level. In just seven games, Bedard put up a ridiculous nine goals and 14 assists for 23 points, outscoring every other player in the tournament by nine points. Bedard had 3.29 points per game, with the next closest notching two points per game (2022 third overall pick Logan Cooley). Bedard was the clear star of the tournament, and won the Most Valuable Player honors. Bedard won gold with Canada in both the 2022 and 2023 World Juniors, beating Finland and Czechia in the finals respectively.
Sky High Expectations
Bedard is drawing a lot of comparisons to Connor McDavid due to his perceived status as a generational talent. However, when you talk about Connor Bedard, the McDavid comparison isn’t necessarily there in terms of playing style. The one thing that stands out in Bedard’s game is his shot. It is easily his best attribute, and Bedard’s shot has drawn praise from some of the NHL’s best. McDavid himself has said Bedard’s shot is “remarkable to see,” and Nathan McKinnon said “[Bedard’s] release is one of the best in the world now.”
When scouts talk about Bedard, they also discuss his passing and skating, both of which are also elite. The best way to describe how good Bedard has been is the old expression “a man amongst boys.” Bedard is undoubtedly a star in the making. When you talk about his talent leading into the draft, the only two players at his level are McDavid and Sidney Crosby.
McDavid has been the best player in hockey for the last five or six years, and he took that title over from Crosby, who was considered the best player in the league for a very long time before McDavid arrived. Both McDavid and Crosby made splashes to start their NHL careers. Both players failed to win the Calder Memorial Trophy (NHL’s Rookie of the Year trophy) due to differing circumstances, but both Crosby and McDavid won the Art Ross Trophy (awarded to the player with the most points in a season), Hart Memorial Trophy (awarded to the NHL MVP as voted by the media), and the Ted Lindsay Award (NHL Most Outstanding Player as voted by the players) in their second season. People think Bedard could do the same, which makes for extremely high expectations, but Bedard might be that good. Winning the NHL’s Draft Lottery couldn’t have come at a better time for the Chicago Blackhawks, who soon get to add Connor Bedard to their roster.
Connor Bedard has an extremely bright future ahead of him, and every single hockey fan should be excited to see him play in the NHL. There are other exciting players in the 2023 NHL Draft, such as Adam Fantilli, Leo Carlsson, Matvei Michkov, and more. So if your team missed out on the number one pick, the 2023 NHL Draft class is still an elite class, especially in the first half of the first round. Yet regardless of how talented the draft class is, one thing is for sure: the is the excitement of hockey fans to see these young players in the NHL.
And it all starts at the top, with Connor Bedard.