Hockey’s most scrutinized teenager is finding the quiet life — for now.
Connor Bedard, the most hyped NHL prospect ever that Connor, was finishing his third season of junior hockey when I visited him in March. His team, the Regina Pats, is located on the wide plains of Saskatchewan, where the average winter temperature hovers around 12 degrees Fahrenheit. Against this unforgiving backdrop, the 17-year-old from Vancouver spends most of his time at the rink – where he and his teammates also attended high school – or at home with his mother, Melanie, who temporarily moved and rented an apartment to ensure that her son remained in some kind of normality.
For fun, Bedard and his friends often go to the hockey shooting range, an indoor facility where they shoot pucks for hours. Sometimes they visit the mall, where Bedard said they recently went through a jewelry store for chains “because.
Bedard tries to stay out of the public eye whenever he can, and as he gave me a tour of his off-roader SUV, blasting some top-40 music, it was clear why. When he stopped at a red light, a car pulled up with four adults who immediately recognized Bedard. The driver enthusiastically honked and waved while the three passengers fiddled with their cellphones to take pictures. Bedard, who had clearly experienced this exact scenario, politely smiled back.
“There’s a little bit of a buzz, and for me, it’s crazy to see some things and people that I’m compared to,” Bedard said. “It’s very different to be known outside and in. It’s something I’m used to. It’s great to feel the support. But you know … I’m still young.”
He underestimated the buzz.
A Pats road trip in the winter drew sellouts in every arena, including the 17,000-seat Saddledome, home of the Calgary Flames. Cliff Mander, a Vancouver-based marketing executive, told Global News he estimates Bedard brought in $1.5 million to the Western Hockey League this season.
Just imagine when he turns pro.
This is the reality to which Bedard begins to settle — even if the public view doesn’t quite match his feelings.
“Going out and meeting the kids, they’re excited and screaming about meeting you, you can make their day or their week,” Bedard said. “But for me, when I look in the mirror again, I don’t see a famous person. I just see the same guy I saw.”
AS PRESUMPTIVE No. 1 pick in the 2023 NHL draft, Bedard learned his professional fate Monday night, when the NHL held its draft lottery. Teams across the league have been looking for better prospects for nearly two years in hopes of landing the talent of Bedard’s generation.
Bedard, a center, is listed at 5-foot-10, which may be generous, but nothing about his game feels small. He is as deceptive as he is unpredictable, with a hockey IQ and vision for the game that allows him to completely tilt the ice every time he jumps the boards. But his most elite attribute is his shot.
“It’s amazing to see,” said Oilers star Connor McDavid, who skated with Bedard several times over the summer. “He shoots it so hard and with such a quick release.”
Avalanche star Nathan MacKinnon was even more blunt: “His release is one of the best in the world right now … at 17.”
The first time Bedard read about himself in the media was at the age of 12, when he was interviewed by The Hockey News. “I thought it was pretty cool,” Bedard said. “All my friends show me anything. But yeah, it’s still young.”
At 14, he became the seventh player to earn “exceptional” status, which allows him to compete at the highest level of Canadian Junior Hockey as a minor player. Wayne Gretzky called to congratulate him.
“I think it was him,” Bedard said. “I hope it’s not someone, you know, pulling a prank on me.”
At age 16, Bedard is the youngest player in league history to score 50 goals. And if there was any doubt that Bedard was at the top of what NHL evaluators consider a deep first-round draft class, he blew it with a banger at a 2023 world juniors tournament . Bedard led Canada to the gold medal while scoring 23 points in seven games, including a highlight-reel overtime goal to defeat Slovakia in the quarterfinals.
Bedard broke five tournament records, surpassing Gretzky, Jaromir Jagr and Eric Lindros in several categories.
“I’ve been going to that tournament for over two decades,” an NHL scout told ESPN. “And what Connor Bedard did, especially with all the attention and eyes on him, was as impressive an individual performance as you’re going to see. The only way I can describe it is pure dominance.”
The only person who didn’t come out about Bedard was Bedard himself. The teenager is well-behaved and trained to deal with the media, following the unwritten rules of hockey — you don’t talk about yourself — as these are scriptures. Good luck getting him to admit what the world already thinks. Every conversation about Bedard’s NHL future includes qualifiers like “if I’m lucky enough to get drafted.”
“He doesn’t care what other people say about him or what he does,” Pats coach John Paddock said. “I’ve never heard him talk about being drafted No. 1, even though nobody probably thinks he won’t. But he knows what he wants to do and if where he wants to go. time. It’s his routine, his habits, that all shine.”
BEDARD IS BORN on July 17, 2005, just 13 days before his childhood idol, Sidney Crosby, was drafted by the Pittsburgh Penguins. He started playing hockey at age 4 or 5. “Just stickhandling and shooting,” Bedard said. “Imagining Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final stuff, like any kid.”
Bedard also played soccer until he was 12, but hockey became his full focus. His family has learned to adjust.
“There was a time when my brother really wanted to go to Hawaii,” Bedard said. “I told my parents I really didn’t want to because we were going away for a week, and that’s a long time without hockey.”
They compromise. “I went to the airport, got my ticket, and there was a hockey bag,” Bedard said. “I probably looked like a bit of an idiot when I got there, but I rollerbladed and stickhandled around the seawall.”
Bedard says he got his work ethic from his father, Tom, a logger in Vancouver.
“He would get up at 3, 4 in the morning and go to work,” Bedard said. “It was a three-hour drive, sometimes four. And then you’re on the mountain, climbing up there, cutting trees. It’s a pretty physical job, and dangerous. He talks to people who are hurt. the his leg logging.”
When Tom Bedard comes home, he takes his son to hockey practice. On weekends, it’s tournaments.
“Doing all that, he must have been very tired,” Bedard said. “But he always had a positive attitude.”
The most prescient lesson passed from father to son: Be where your feet are.
“He always said he never wanted to lose time,” Bedard said. “He’s always like, ‘Just enjoy now and where you are now, and before you know it what you expect will happen.'”
CONNOR BEDARD a student of the game. He said he watched Auston Matthews’ goals on YouTube, then tried to copy aspects of his shot. He examines McDavid’s skating, Patrick Kane’s death. But Bedard draws the most holistic inspiration from Crosby. Bedard studied Crosby’s puck protection and 200-foot ice game, and watched Crosby’s news conferences and social interactions off the ice.
“[Crosby is] it’s unbelievable,” Bedard said. “You see him with kids, you see him in the media, and he never makes a mistake. He carries himself well, always. There is humility in him. He doesn’t like to talk about himself. He always tries to involve his teammates, involve people who have helped him.
Which is exactly what Bedard is trying to replicate.
Bedard said when he earned a big salary in the NHL, he wants to thank his family for their support. “I’ll probably take my mom,” Bedard said. “My dream is to pay off their house or get them a house. Hopefully I can do that one day.”
Even away from the spotlight, there are aspects about Bedard that make him stand out. “It surprised me because it was my first time seeing it,” Pats teammate Tanner Howe said, “but in the weight room he’s always doing two or three more reps. That’s his thing. “
And there are times when Bedard seems like a typical teenager. “When you get to know him, he’s actually a funny guy,” Pats teammate Alexander Suzdalev said. “He’s going to put you on ice.”
Howe echoed this, but out of respect, both players said they could not cite specific examples. “Just trust me,” Suzdalev said. “He is very good.”
Bedard knows there are things he can’t control: where his NHL career begins, how others view him. Later, though, he had some ideas about where he wanted people to start.
“I mean, you have your own opinion on how I look or something,” said Bedard. “But I just want to be seen as someone who always gives everything and is a good person as much as a good player.”