Connor Bedard broke windows and records in becoming the NHL draft's presumptive No. 1 pick

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FILE - NHL draft prospect Connor Bedard speaks to the media prior to Game 2 of the NHL hockey Stanley Cup Finals between the Florida Panthers and the Vegas Golden Knights, June 5, 2023, in Las Vegas. Bedard, from British Columbia, is anticipated to be selected by the Chicago Blackhawks with the No. 1 pick in the NHL draft Wednesday, June 28, 2023. (AP Photo/Abbie Parr, File)

The tales of how much time Connor Bedard devoted to developing his precise and productive puck-shooting skills while growing up in the secluded neighborhood of Lynn Valley, tucked amid Vancouver’s North Shore mountains, have become the stuff of lore.

Marred floors, broken windows, the thud of shots keeping neighbors up at night and Bedard turning down a family vacation to Disneyland are among them. They all paved the way for the 17-year-old to be the presumptive No. 1 pick when the Chicago Blackhawks open the two-day NHL draft in Nashville, Tennessee, on Wednesday.

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And that doesn’t include the time Bedard’s mother, Melanie, was pulled over by police because of a license plate chipped by various errant attempts.

“I don’t think I was missing that bad,” Bedard said with a laugh while attending the NHL combine earlier this month.

“Maybe hit a post, ricocheted and hit the car or something,” he added. “My mom probably had some valuable things broken by me. But, you know, I hope she doesn’t mind too much.”

Why would she? Those lengthy practice sessions, which eventually shifted to the family’s backyard to reduce the din and potential damage, have resulted in Bedard being labeled a generational talent.

He is drawing comparisons to hockey’s other Connor — the McDavid one, who went first overall to Edmonton in the 2015 draft.

“It’s just the next generation,” NHL Central Scouting chief Dan Marr said.

“These young players’ hockey sense is so quick to adapt and read plays and the skill levels, it’s getting better and better, and it’s getting faster,” Marr added. “Connor McDavid started that trend, and Connor Bedard is going to lead it into the next trend.”

And forget windows. At just under 5-foot-10 and 185 pounds, Bedard is better known for breaking records and the loftiest of expectations over the past three seasons with the Western Hockey League's Regina Pats and on the international stage.

He was the WHL’s first player — and seventh in Canadian Hockey League history — to be granted exceptional status, allowing Bedard to play in the major junior ranks at 15. In 2021-22, he became the youngest WHL player to score 50 goals, finishing with 51 in 62 games. Last season, his 143 points (71 goals, 72 assists in 57 games) were the most in the league since 1995-96.

Internationally, his 36 points (17 goals, 19 assists) in 16 world junior championship games rank fourth on the tournament list behind Peter Forsberg (42 points in 14 games), Robert Reichel (40 in 21) and Pavel Bure (39 in 21).

“Incredible,” is how Swedish prospect Leo Carlsson referred to Bedard.

“Exceptional,” was the word friend and fellow Canadian prospect Zach Benson used. “I wouldn’t say there’s a way to slow him down.”

Bedard is the complete offensive package with deft moves — which he put on display with his overtime goal in Canada’s 4-3 win over Slovakia in the world junior quarterfinals in January — passing ability and an exceptional shot. Adding another tale to the Bedard lore, at 13, he strengthened his shot by continuing to practice solely using his left hand after breaking his right wrist.

His shot has been honed into one fluid, quick-release snapping motion. Bedard uses a stick that’s larger than most for a player of his size, which adds extra torque and gives him an ability to maneuver the puck away from defenders.

Chicoutimi defenseman Matteo Mann learned firsthand how difficult it is to defend Bedard when the two practiced together at the CHL prospects game in January.

At 6-6, Mann thought he had the angle and reach, only to have Bedard drag the puck around and snap off a shot.

“I don’t think people understand how far across he really brings the puck, because if you watch on TV, it’s easy to point out defensemen’s errors in terms of the way they’re positioning their stick,” Mann said. “I’d even go to say it’s deceptive.”

Regina coach John Paddock is no stranger to NHL talent, having played alongside the Stastny brothers in Quebec and coached Teemu Selanne in Winnipeg, and he mentions Bedard as having the same potential as McDavid and Sidney Crosby when they were this age.

“I still try and be guarded when you talk about people because it’s not that there’s any more pressure, but that’s quite a ceiling he’s looking at,” Paddock said. “But there’s no indication he’s not going to based on what he’s done to date.”

What struck Paddock is Bedard’s ability to deliver in the big moment, such as when the Pats traveled to play the Hitman in Calgary before 17,000 fans at the NHL Flames' home. After forcing overtime by scoring with 33 seconds left, Bedard scored the lone shootout goal in a 6-5 win.

“I remember somebody from our league office told me afterward, basically the crowd knew he was going to score, and they wanted him to score in that shootout,” Paddock said. “And it was in Calgary.”

The only disappointment for Paddock was the Pats' season ending with a loss in Game 7 of their first-round series against Saskatoon. It would have ended much earlier if not for Bedard, who finished with 10 goals and 20 points.

The mere chance to coach Bedard is something that Paddock, at 69, won’t ever forget.

“I’m not quite sure how to describe it, but it’s sort of the cherry on top to have the opportunity to be around and working with a young man, a young player like this,” Paddock said.

Bedard, meantime, is in no hurry to rush the draft process or predict who might select him.

“Obviously, you want to see what happens and whatnot, but I’m just trying to enjoy everything that goes along with it,” he said.

What Bedard is certain of is once the draft is over, he’ll be back working on his game, be it in the gym, on the ice or in his backyard, which he refers to as his “happy place.”


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