At one point, there were skeptics who said that the numbers and stats put up by Connor Bedard should be taken with a grain of salt. They weren’t in big games. They didn’t come when it mattered.
On Monday, Jan. 2, 2023, that changed. Bedard delivered a spectacular performance and scored one of the most epic goals in Canadian international hockey history in overtime as Canada got past Slovakia in the quarterfinals of the 2023 IIHF World Junior Hockey Tournament.
Bedard’s record breaking – record obliterating would be a better term – performance has cemented him as the consensus overall first pick in this year’s NHL Draft. The gap between Bedard and anyone else in the draft is enormous enough that there are now two distinct groups of players: Connor Bedard, and those who aren’t Connor Bedard.
There were many NHL draft picks and NHL players in the tournament. Canadian captain Shane Wright, who went through almost all of last season as the projected first overall pick, was loaned to Team Canada by the Seattle Kraken. Bedard has been head and shoulders better than Wright, and Wright has been extremely good in the tournament.
Wright scored the tournament’s overtime winner for Canada against Czechia. Fittingly, it came on his 19th birthday.
Defenseman Brandt Clarke of the Los Angeles Kings was drafted eighth overall in 2021. Like Wright, he was loaned to Team Canada. He told reporters over the weekend that Bedard is NHL ready right now.
Both Wright and Clarke have played nine NHL games this year, the maximum a rookie can play before burning a year of their entry level deal. It is expected both will end up being returned to the Ontario Hockey League.
Wright and Bedard are among the players who had a very lively following in the autograph and memorabilia markets as junior players and as members of the Hockey Canada junior program. While a handful of players have been prematurely described as generation talents – Alexis Lafraniere comes to mind – Bedard’s domination of the tournament has put the needle on the expectation meter at somewhere around Connor McDavid.
Heading into the semi-final game against the United States, Bedard was already having a better tournament than any player in Canadian history. The Americans took a quick 2-0 lead on the Canadians, but it was a big Bedard goal that turned the momentum of the game around and paved the way for Canada’s 6-2 win. The Americans did as good a job as anyone in shutting down the young phenom, as he only had two points with a goal and an assist.
Imagine enough thinking that holding Bedard to two points is shutting him down.
In the gold medal game, Bedard was held off the scoresheet by the Czechs. However, the puck was on his stick throughout the game, and Bedard was the most dangerous player on the ice.
Bedard vs. Lindros
Comparing Connor Bedard and Eric Lindros is apples and oranges. Bedard is generously listed at 5’10”, 180 pounds. Lindros was a man-child and played junior hockey at about 6’4”, 220 pounds. Their games were completely different, with the only similarity being that the puck would end up in the net.
Before last week, Lindros was the career leader for Canada at the World Junior Tournament. He played in three full tournaments, collecting 31 points in 21 games. Bedard broke Lindros’ record in just 14 games.
That wasn’t the only Canadian Junior record Bedard smashed. His overtime goal against Slovakia was his 15th career World Junior goal, passing Jordan Eberle’s Canadian record of 14. His 19th point of the tournament also put him past Dale McCourt for most ever by a Canadian at the tournament. McCourt had 18 points in the first WJC held in Prague in 1977, and Brayden Schenn who had 18 points in 2011.
The year after McCourt’s 18-point performance, 16-year-old Wayne Gretzky led all scorers the 1978 tournament with 17 points for Canada.
The record for most points in a tournament by a player from any team is held by Peter Forsberg of Sweden, who had an incredible 31 points in the 1993 tournament. His linemate in that tournament, Markus Naslund, set a tournament record that year and had 24 points for the second most ever in one tournament. Raimo Helminen of Finland held the record of 24, set in 1984. Helminen was a second round pick of the New York Rangers later that year and spent four years in the NHL with the Rangers, Minnesota North Stars and New York Islanders before spending the next 18 years as a star in Europe with Malmo in the Swedish Elite League and Ilves Tampere in Finland.
Bedard is one of two Canadians who have not been old enough to be eligible for the NHL Draft. Adam Fantilli is also in this year’s draft, and he is projected by many to go second overall. He has five points in six games, which when compared to anyone besides Bedard, is impressive. Goalie Thomas Milic, who plays for the Seattle Thunderbirds of the Western Hockey League, was overlooked in the draft. However, after his performance for Canada in this year’s draft, Milic will be a hit commodity.
After the quarterfinal goal against Slovakia, Bedard had more points in a tournament by a player under the age of 18 in the history of the tournament. Jaromir Jagr held the record with 18 points, while Gretzky, Lindros and Jesse Puljujarvi each had 17.
Anticipating His Rookie Card
While the NHLPA and NHL made exceptions for Upper Deck to include Lafreniere in early season card sets before he played his first game after being first overall in 2020, we would guess that a generational talent like Bedard would get the same type of hobby treatment. Bedard could singlehandedly turn the 2023-24 early season Upper Deck releases into the most sought after products so far this decade.
Upper Deck already has Bedard included in some of its Team Canada products. In the last two weeks in and around the World Tournament, eBay buyers spent over $23,500 on the very limited selection of Bedard cards, with an average selling price of $127. Among the big sellers: a PSA 7 patch autograph from the 2021 Team Canada Juniors set numbered to 125 that netted $1,625, an ungraded copy that brought $1,375 and a PSA 10 Exclusives parallel from the same set, numbered to 250, that went for $1,100. So far, the highest price paid for a Bedard card came in October of last year when one of the 25 Premium Autographs from the Team Canada Juniors issue sold for $7,999.
Before he appeared on cards with Upper Deck, Bedard is featured as a 15-year-old in a Regina Pats team set that was released in April, 2021 and was available only through the Pats’ team store at the Brandt Centre. The set was limited to 500 sets and sold for $15 when it was released.
As of now there are about 400 Bedard cards listed on eBay.