Connor Bedard talks to the media Friday at the NHL Scouting Combine. ©2023, Micheline Veluvolu

In Connor Bedard, NHL might have the next Connor McDavid

BUFFALO – Connor Bedard prefers to live in the moment. With all the outside noise and hype surrounding him, the ultra-talented center, a lock to be the first overall pick at the upcoming NHL Draft, said it allows him to enjoy things “kind of be where your feet are.”

“That’s good advice I’ve got from a few guys,” Bedard said Friday in LECOM Harborcenter, where the NHL Scouting Combine is taking place this week.

That’s why Bedard, 17, talks as if the Chicago Blackhawks, who had just 11.5 percent odds for the top pick in the draft lottery, might choose someone else. If they do select him June 28 in Nashville, well, he said that would “be awesome.”

But Bedard’s not looking too far ahead.

“The history of that organization, that city with sports, (it) would be unbelievable,” he said. “We’ll see what happens, but to be selected, that would be a huge honor.”

Exactly how good is Bedard?

He scored a whopping 71 goals and 143 points in 57 regular-season games for the Western Hockey League’s Regina Pats and added another 10 goals and 20 points in seven postseason contests. He led Team Canada to a gold medal at the World Junior Championship in the winter, registering nine goals and 23 points in just seven games.

“Connor, to use your media term, there is that generational-type player,” said Dan Marr, the director of NHL Central Scouting.

He added: “This is as real a deal as you can get. There’s no projection involved. He definitely falls into that special player category.”

Marr heaped the highest of praise on the 5-foot-10, 185-pound Bedard, comparing him to Edmonton Oilers superstar Connor McDavid, who recently completed a dynamic 64-goal, 153-point season.

McDavid, the top pick in 2015, is widely considered the most gifted hockey player on the planet. Marr said Bedard’s continuing a trend McDavid started.

“It’s just the next generation,” he said. “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 and it’s just the quickness is just unbelievable.”

Bedard ranks his hockey sense as his greatest asset.

“I’m pretty creative and stuff, and I love to try to create plays,” he said.

Having been granted exceptional status by WHL, Bedard, who turns 18 on July 17, has been a star in major junior hockey since he was just 15.

Even as the youngest player in the league, he performed dominantly.

“We’ve focused on him for the last three years leading up to this event,” Marr said. “He’s one of those types where 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.

“And there’s a lot of words that start with ‘C’ that analytics can’t judge for you like character. (Another) one of them is consistency. And he can consistently play that high-character game, game in and game out. It’s truly impressive.”

Of course, there other impressive draft prospects. In another year, center Adam Fantilli would almost certainly be the top pick. Instead, the Anaheim Ducks will likely grab Fantilli, who scored 30 goals and 65 points in 36 games as a freshman for Michigan, second overall.

It’s a draft reminiscent of 2015, when the Buffalo Sabres drafted center Jack Eichel second after McDavid.

“They’re both going to be phenomenal assets to their clubs,” Marr said of Bedard and Fantilli. “And Adam had a season for the ages. … Whoever gets these two players, they’re going to help define a franchise.”

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