The world of professional sports can be odd. Where else is there a great prize for being one of the most pitiful teams in the entire league? In the most anticipated draft lottery since the one eight years ago, where the Oilers landed Connor McDavid, that prize may have never been more enticing.
With the passing of the NHL trade deadline last week, teams were seemingly split into two “races”. The majority of the teams in the league are all-in on their push to the playoffs, with dreams of hoisting the Stanley Cup in June. However, for a handful of teams at the bottom of the standings, another type of race is on, one we’re dubbing “the battle for Bedard”.
Of course, I’m referring to Connor Bedard, the 17-year-old prodigy centre for the Regina Pats of the Canadian Western Hockey League. Bedard has been the talk of the NHL for quite some time, and he’s clearly the best overall prospect in this year’s class and will be the first skater taken.
Who Is Connor Bedard?
What makes this 17-year-old so special? Well, the hype is nothing new. His hockey career got its official start in 2018 (at age 13), when he played minor hockey with West Vancouver Academy Prep of the Canadian Sport School Hockey League and was named MVP in 2018 and 2019 for the school’s teams. In an article by The Hockey News that season, he was even dubbed “the future of hockey”.
He then went on to the Western Hockey League in 2020. After being granted an exception to enter the WHL a year early, he was drafted by the Regina Pats with the first overall pick. He quickly received rookie of the year honors from both the WHL and its East Division. The next year, at just 16 years old, Bedard tallied 100 points on the season, becoming just the third 16-year-old to do so.
After that, he played for two Canadian junior national teams and led both to world championships. While in his second campaign, he received several honors, including an award as the championship’s best forward, and the overall most valuable player. In the quarterfinal game against Slovakia, Bedard set the record for most goals at the event.
The Race For Last Place
The Blackhawks are not alone in their quest for this exciting prospect. With a player like Bedard, tanking can seem all too enticing. Chicago did position itself at the deadline to become the frontrunner for him. They had a fire sale of sorts, stockpiling draft picks and “tanking” in a way. Their exports included stars Patrick Kane and Max Domi. A few more teams joined the race at the deadline, dealing their stars and essentially throwing in the towel on their season. The Blues, for example, dealt winger Vladimir Tarasenko and center Ryan O’Reilly. The Capitals did the same, as they got rid of players like Garnet Hathaway and Dmitry Orlov. The Blue Jackets and Ducks lost some pieces as well. With eleven teams having a chance at the first pick in the NHL Draft lottery, it doesn’t take a genius to see why teams would embrace mediocrity, especially for a prospect like Bedard.
Before the draft at the end of June, NHL teams like the Blackhawks may be asking themselves, “Why would my team stake its future on a 5’9”, 185-pound 17-year-old?”. The answer is simple: Connor Bedard isn’t just any 17-year-old. He possesses a skill set that makes up for concerns about his size, one that makes him one of the most highly touted prospects ever. En route to shattering practically every junior hockey record, he displayed a deadly shot, exceptional passing, and skills like speed and stick handling.
Bedard’s shot, as shown in the video below, is a bit unorthodox. He has an extremely quick release but does so by using a dragging motion toward his body. This motion makes his shot even harder for goaltenders to track and is a huge asset to his game.
Bedard also has the ability to make passes that others in the NHL can’t and can always seem to find the open man. He has the physical skills to add to his already unstoppable game, as he’s a quick, shifty skater with impressive stick handling.
Connor Bedard will transform whichever team is lucky enough to get him into a perennial contender. Every NHL franchise recognizes that, and teams are already racing to get him. The trade deadline marked an important milestone in that race and identified the true contenders for the first overall pick. The Blackhawks find themselves right in the mix, with possibly the highest odds to land the pick. One player can’t win a championship even if Chicago is lucky enough to get him. If they got the pick, they would face a crucial task: build around him. Nevertheless, the current rebuild in Chicago may hinge on the race to last place.
Issac, true to all your statements. I have been following Bedard for several years and watched a lot of tape on him, and he is a guy who can right now be projected to be mentioned in the same breath as Gretzky, McDavid, Crosby, Howe, Lemieux. His skills are that great! And trust me for the average reader, this is not an over projection, it’s real.