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Connor mania: Bedard the main attraction at NHL scouting combine

BUFFALO, N.Y. – Connor Bedard has passed a lot of signposts this season.

With less than a month to go until the presumptive No. 1 pick climbs on stage and checks another box after hearing his name called first at the NHL draft, the 17-year-old phenom is doing his best to stay patient.

It can’t be easy. Bedard also isn’t in any rush.

“This is our dream,” he said Friday at the league’s scouting combine. “All of this, you’ve just got to take in and enjoy it.

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

The most talked about prospect since Connor McDavid burst onto the scene in 2015, Bedard’s slow march to the draft in Nashville, Tenn., has included an eye-popping last 10 months.

The No. 1-ranked North American skater by NHL Central Scouting won back-to-back gold medals at the world junior hockey championship in August and January, dominated the Western Hockey League, and was, to put it bluntly, head-and-shoulders above the rest of his draft contemporaries.

Bedard, who turns 18 next month, was also named the Canadian Hockey League’s top prospect, top scorer and player of the year – a first in the same season.

His 71 goals with the Regina Pats were the most by a WHLer in 24 years, while his 143 points represented a high-bar on the circuit since 1995-96.

“That generational-type player,” NHL Central Scouting director Dan Marr said. “We’ve focused on him for the last three years leading up to this event.

“It’s very difficult for the youngest player on any team to be the best player on the team. And he’s been able to do that every outing, every event, almost every game that you’re at. It just puts him in that special category.”

The Chicago Blackhawks own the first pick at the draft June 28 and are a slam dunk to select the centre after waving goodbye to franchise icons and three-time Stanley Cup winners Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews this past season.

But the always-humble Bedard still isn’t letting his guard down.

The North Vancouver, B.C., product declined Friday to compare himself to other players in this draft and talked how great it would be “if” he makes the NHL.

“It’d be awesome,” Bedard said at a packed press conference of being chosen by the Original Six franchise. “The history of that organization, that city with sports would be unbelievable.

“We’ll see what happens, but to be selected, that would be a huge honour.”

Bedard’s true breakout, when he all but announced to the hockey world he would be going No. 1, came at the 2023 world juniors in Halifax over the holiday season.

He smashed tournament and national records, in the process passing names like Wayne Gretzky, Jaromir Jagr and Eric Lindros after filling opposition nets with a string of breathtaking, jaw-dropping performances in the biggest moments.

There’s so much chatter ahead of Bedard’s coronation that little oxygen has been offered some of the other big names – players likely be in the conversation for the No. 1 spot most years – including Canadian world junior teammate Adam Fantilli and Swedish forward Leo Carlsson.

“There’s a lot of words that start with ‘C’ that analytics can’t judge for you – like character,” Marr said of Bedard. “One of them is consistency … he can consistently play that high-character game.

“It’s truly impressive.”

Bedard has been on a whirlwind the last few weeks. He attended the Stanley Cup final with other top draft hopefuls and was on the TNT broadcast alongside Gretzky.

He even poked fun at NHL-journeyman-turned-podcaster-and-TV-personality Paul Bissonnette on the panel.

“It makes you want to play that much more,” Bedard said of being at the final in Las Vegas. “It was great the NHL does that for us … it was awesome.”

The league, meanwhile, is counting down the minutes until it can welcome its next superstar.

“He’s right up there with Connor McDavid,” Marr said of Bedard in terms of scouting the teen. “It’s just the next generation. The speed of the game, the quickness. These young players’ hockey sense is so quick to adapt and read plays, and the skill levels. It’s getting better and better, but it’s getting faster … the quickness is just unbelievable.

“Connor McDavid started that trend and Connor Bedard is going to lead it into the next trend.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 9, 2023.

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