Skip to content

NHL draft journey nearly complete for B.C.’s Connor Bedard

Touted as the NHL’s next big star, prospect ‘always all-in to practise or play’
Regina Pats centre Connor Bedard poses for photographs with the trophies he received at the Canadian Hockey League awards ceremony, in Kamloops, B.C., on Saturday, June 3, 2023. Bedard, the presumed No. 1 pick of this year’s NHL draft won the CHL Top Prospect, Top Scorer, and David Branch Player of the Year awards. It’s the first time since the Top Scorer award was introduced in 1994 that a player has won all three in a single season. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

Connor Bedard was about to jet off to a sunny destination.

He wasn’t happy about it.

With minor hockey tryouts just around the corner, Bedard — the projected No. 1 pick at next week’s NHL draft, but at the time simply a youngster with big dreams — begrudgingly agreed to his family’s Hawaiian vacation.

There was a caveat: a couple of extra items needed to be packed, namely some sticks and his in-line skates.

“He didn’t really want to go,” Tom Bedard, Connor’s dad, recalled with a laugh. “Only gone 10 days or something, but for him that was a lot.

“Not thrilled.”

When the Bedards rolled up to the airport, the stick bag set to be loaded on a plane heading to a chain of islands in the Pacific Ocean raised some eyebrows.

And once they arrived in paradise — Tom, wife Melanie, daughter Madisen, and Connor — the hockey-mad youngster quickly laced up and hit the seawall.

“He was flying around,” Tom Bedard said in an interview with The Canadian Press. “We eventually got our beach time. It was a fun trip … once he chilled a little.”

The family is about to embark on another journey.

Connor Bedard, the 17-year-old Regina Pats phenom who has turned heads since he was 11 and tore the Western Hockey League to pieces this season with 143 points in 57 games, is as safe a bet as possible to be selected No. 1 by the Chicago Blackhawks at the NHL draft in Nashville on Wednesday.

“A lot of work put in,” Bedard said. “It’s pretty exciting.”

The top-ranked North American skater, who took home a boatload of individual honours in 2022-23, has drawn comparisons to the game’s generational talents, including Edmonton Oilers captain Connor McDavid.

“Pretty cool to hear that, but I don’t pay attention,” Bedard said. “I’m my own person, I’m my own player. I’m going to try to carve my own path. Hopefully I’m that good or half that good.

“Give it everything I got to be the best I can be.”

That commitment is something Tom Bedard saw early — even before Connor was told he would have to play up a level as soon as he enrolled in minor hockey.

“Always all-in to practise or play,” Tom said. “It’s the work ethic and the interest in the game, and the interest to get better.

“Just what he likes to do.”

Then there was the time Connor broke his right hand — the bottom hand when holding a stick — but continued practising with one arm until he was healed.

Some kids would have sat on the couch for two months. But not Connor Bedard.

“Wasn’t surprised,” Tom said. “That’s just what he does. He wants to skate, he wants to play.

“Didn’t really have any other interests.”

When you’re this good at something, it’s easy to understand why.

The first person granted exceptional status to play in the WHL at age 15, Bedard was in a two-horse race with Adam Fantilli to be the top pick when both suited up for Canada at the world junior hockey championship.

By the time the holiday tournament was over, there was little doubt which player would be called first in June, and it’s not like Fantilli had regressed.

It’s that Bedard, who rewrote record books thanks to his vision, bullet shot and flair for the dramatic, was breathtakingly elite in guiding the country to gold and grabbing MVP honours.

“Some of my dreams,” he said. “To have a few of those has been special.”

And to be clear, it’s not just the North Vancouver, B.C., product’s on-ice talents that turn heads.

“Continues to excel in all areas,” said NHL Central Scouting director Dan Marr, who also pointed to Bedard’s leadership skills. “It’s the intangibles that can truly make a superstar.”

Marr first saw Bedard in person at the under-18 world championships. Canada was up against one of the smaller nations, and the NHL’s top scout told Bedard afterwards the player appeared to think it was going to be easy.

“I think he was surprised at the level of the intensity,” Marr said. “Next game, you could see he had a completely different approach.”

Pats head coach and general manager John Paddock got an up-close view of Bedard throughout his three years in Regina, including a rookie campaign cut short by COVID-19.

“Certainly didn’t take him for granted,” said Paddock, who spent parts of eight seasons behind NHL benches. “I think we’ll look back at it more fondly as time grows and he’s doing what people expect him to do at the next level.”

The five-foot-10, 185-pound Bedard has dominated headlines leading up to this draft, and impressed his contemporaries in the process.

“He’s been at this for a long time,” said Matteo Mann, a defenceman in this year’s class. “Really far along in the development of his physical attributes.”

For all of the skills, Mann added many observers don’t realize how unique Bedard’s shot — using a longer stick than most players his size — is when it comes to manipulating the angle.

“Every guy knows he’s going to pull and drag that puck,” Mann said. “He brings it in so much that it does miss your stick … it’s deceptive.”

Tom Bedard has watched his son develop that, and every other aspect of his game, while navigating the pressures of teenage superstardom.

“Quite a journey,” he said. “It’s hard to put it all together … five, six years ago he was just little.

“It’s hard to wrap your head around it.”

The Bedard family is set to share a special moment in Tennessee, but one chair will be empty.

Connor’s grandfather and Tom’s dad, Garth, was killed in a car crash in B.C. in April 2021. Connor scored two goals in the Pats’ next game.

“He’d be very proud of Connor,” Tom said. “Seeing that he reached this point is special. It’s so unfortunate he can’t be there.

“We’ll just hope he’s looking out for him.”

Connor and his dad have had plenty of conversations about the game. But they’ve never spent much time looking back, and certainly never gazed too far ahead.

But a draft moment that was once far off in the distance now rests just over the horizon.

“You don’t ever think of this happening,” Tom Bedard said. “Always the next shift, the next tournament, the next whatever.

“Now all of a sudden, you’re here.”

Ready to embark on a trip to the NHL — one Connor Bedard is keen to take.

READ ALSO: Top hockey prospects, best friends Bedard and Cristall set to battle it out in Kelowna