Canada’s Connor Bedard carries the Championship Cup after the team’s overtime win against Czechia in the title game of the IIHF world junior hockey championships Thursday, Jan. 5, 2023, in Halifax, Nova Scotia. (Darren Calabrese/The Canadian Press via AP)

Canada’s Connor Bedard carries the Championship Cup after the team’s overtime win against Czechia in the title game of the IIHF world junior hockey championships Thursday, Jan. 5, 2023, in Halifax, Nova Scotia. (Darren Calabrese/The Canadian Press via AP)

After banner world juniors, Connor Bedard not focusing on NHL draft

Phenom showed how wide the gulf is between himself and the rest of his contemporaries

Connor Bedard didn’t want to talk about his record-breaking performance.

He also wasn’t keen on looking ahead to the 2023 NHL draft.

The star of the recent world junior hockey championship isn’t interested in the rear-view mirror or what waits over the horizon.

That’s for the rest of the hockey world to debate and discuss.

Bedard provided a string of jaw-dropping performances for Canada at the recent men’s under-20 tournament in the Maritimes, setting a boatload of national and tournament records to help lead his country to gold.

There had been talk before the event that fellow forward Adam Fantilli — a teammate in Halifax and Moncton, N.B., and a blue-chip prospect in his own right — might be closing the gap on the 17-year-old phenom from North Vancouver, B.C.

Bedard instead showed just how wide the gulf is between himself and the rest of his contemporaries in the draft field.

“He’s a professional already,” Canadian goaltender Thomas Milic said in the wake of the country’s 20th world junior crown. “He’s so good at everything he does — the way he prepares, the way he looks at the game, studies it.

“Incredible to see a mind like that at such a young age.”

The rest of the package is pretty good, too.

With moves and vision that have been compared to Maple Leafs winger Mitch Marner, and a shot likened to the deadly release of Toronto centre Auston Matthews, NHL executives — especially the ones whose teams sit near the bottom of the standings — have to be dreaming of what Bedard would mean for their franchise.

“What a talent,” Marner told reporters last week. “He’s got a lot of skill … his shot’s unreal. But his work ethic, his compete on pucks has been great to watch.”

For all the gaudy numbers Bedard put up in Atlantic Canada, however, he declined to discuss those accomplishments in the wake of the gold medal.

“I want to talk about us and what we accomplished,” Bedard, who had 23 points in seven games, said bluntly as some new hardware hung from his neck.

“Humble,” Canadian captain and Seattle Kraken prospect Shane Wright, who went No. 4 at the 2022 draft, said of Bedard. “Cares about the team more than himself.

“Speaks to the type of character guy he is, the type of person he is.”

Dennis Williams, head coach at the recent world juniors and an assistant in the summer when Bedard also won gold, was impressed with how a player already mentioned in the same breath as Connor McDavid and Sidney Crosby handled the demands.

“A lot of people look at what he does on the ice and don’t realize just how humble and cerebral a kid he is,” Williams said. “I couldn’t imagine being in his shoes with the amount of attention and pressure he gets night in, night out. He’s mature beyond his age.

“Cares about winning more than anything else.”

In his first game back with the Western Hockey League’s Regina Pats on Sunday, Bedard had four goals and two assists in a 6-2 victory.

That’s been pretty much par for the course — even with some lingering jet lag — for a player with an outrageous 70 points in 29 regular-season games so far in 2022-23.

The countdown continues to June’s draft when the projected top pick will almost certainly hear his name called first.

“There’s still so much time to go,” Bedard cautioned. “Taking it one day at a time.

“And not looking too far ahead.”

There are plenty of NHL teams eager for the calendar to move quicker.

WRIGHT ON THE MOVE

Wright was returned to the Ontario Hockey League’s Kingston Frontenacs by Seattle following Canada’s gold-medal victory.

The 19-year-old centre, who was subsequently traded by Kingston to the Windsor Spitfires in one of a handful of blockbuster deals across the Canadian Hockey League ahead of Tuesday’s deadline, had a goal and an assist in eight NHL games.

Wright also scored four times in five appearances with the Kraken’s American Hockey League affiliate, but will now turn his attention to an OHL title run and a potential trip to the Memorial Cup.

MARVELLOUS MCDAVID

The Edmonton Oilers captain is putting together what could be one of the best individual seasons in recent memory.

Heading into Wednesday’s action, McDavid led the NHL in goals (34), assists (43) and points (77) in just 42 games.

Set to turn 26 on Friday, the No. 1 pick in 2015 is on pace to register 150 points — the most since Mario Lemieux’s 161 in just 70 outings in 1995-96.

Jaromir Jagr put up 149 in 82 contests that season, while the salary cap era’s high-water mark is the 128 from Nikita Kucherov in 2018-19.

On pace for 66 goals — his previous high is 44 — McDavid said before the season personal accomplishments are nice.

But what he craves is winning after the Oilers, who have endured an up-and-down first half, made last spring’s Western Conference.

“Team success is first and foremost,” McDavid, a two-time Hart Trophy winner as NHL MVP, said in September. “Numbers, at this point, don’t matter.

“Been there and done that.”

—Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press

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