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Connor Bedard has been talked about for a of couple years now as a potential superstar but it was his short season performance last March and April that really got hockey fans talking. He came into the WHL as 15 year old and dominated the league from the get go. Sure, you can argue the semantics of “dominate”, but what I saw in those 15 games was something special. Bedard was on the puck and creating scoring chances constantly and it came so effortlesly to him. It’s like he’s playing the game on easy mode while everybody else is on the hardest difficulty. It’s so fun to watch.
So, what should we expect from Connor Bedard in his sophmore WHL season? Perhaps analyzing his 2020-21 rookie performance in a more in-depth manner can lend us insight into how he he projects for the upcoming season.
First, let’s dive into the stats of Bedard’s 2020-21 and what they mean:
I was able to gather in-depth stats and analysis using tools found on InStat.
To start off, let’s look at his basic production and how he fared against three different categories: versus players in the league, versus his own teammates, and versus historical comparables. Bedard finished the season with 28 points (12G/16A) in 15 games played, giving him 1.87 points per game (P/GP). It’s important to note that 15 games is not a great sample size when dealing with P/GP, and when this happens it is extra important to look for factors that may have temporarily inflated his P/GP figure. However, for Bedard, his shooting percentage was reasonable and his numbers don’t seem to be inflated by a productive powerplay or by a productive teammate so I’m confident that the 1.87 figure is at least somewhat close to Bedard’s true talent level. With that being said, here’s how his 1.87 P/GP compares to all other WHLers in the short season (min 10 GP):
- Dylan Guenther- 2.00
- Connor Bedard- 1.87
- Peyton Krebs- 1.79
- Jake Neighbours- 1.74
- Connor Zary- 1.60
All these players were first round picks in either 2019 (Krebs), 2020 (Neighbours and Zary) or 2021 (Guenther). Bedard places second amongst the group and he isn’t eligible until 2023. I can’t even describe how impressive that is.
Here’s how Bedard’s P/GP compared to his teammates:
- Connor Bedard- 1.87
- Ryker Evans- 1.17
- Carson Denomie- 0.96
- Zack Smith- 0.75
- Logan Nijhoff- 0.71
Bedard was far, far, and away the best player on the Regina Pats last season. The next forward only had 0.96 P/GP, and a lot of that was a product of Bedard’s abilities having an impact on others. Carson Denomie is a fine WHLer in his own right but he had only 6 points in 9 games away from Bedard and 17 points in 15 games with Bedard. What’s great to see here is that when a player seems to defy the odds with their D-1 or D-2 production, it’s often because the player gets placed in a good role amongst top talent. We can clearly see here that Bedard was not all benefiting from elite teammates, making his season appear even more impressive.
And how does Bedard stack up against historical comparables? I had a tweet back in April that pretty much sums it up.
Connor Bedard is having the best U18 season in the WHL since 1998-99.
Connor Bedard is having the best U17 season in the WHL of all-time.
Connor Bedard is a U16 player. #2023NHLDraft
— Ben Misfeldt (@BBMHockey) April 7, 2021
Basically, there are no accurate or helpful comparables for Bedard, but we will try. Here’s a list of every CHLer who played in their U16 season in the 21st century and put up over 1.00 P/GP:
It’s amazing how far ahead is he is than some of these players at the same age.
With that sort-of macro analysis of Bedard’s season out of the way, let’s look into the in-depth stats from 2020-21 using data found on InStat.
Bedard averaged 9.0 shot attempts per game and 5.3 shots on goal per game in the WHL last season. These are very elite numbers for any player, let alone a rookie, let alone an underaged rookie. He also averaged 1.6 passes to the slot per game, meaning he’s not just creating loads of scoring chances for himself- he’s giving his teammates 1.6 prime setups per game.
The chart below shows where his shots came from during the season. As we can see, he really favours that right circle, and if you’ve watched some of his highlights you’d see him score some spectacular goals from that area with his wicked wrister.
As for the eye test, Bedard passes that with flying colours as well. At first glance, Bedard is an exceptionally talented player who is good-to-elite in most skills. However, I found the seperating factor for him was his ability to always have the puck and put himself in a position to receive the puck and find a way to succesfully create a high-danger scoring chance.
Bedard is not very big at around 5’10” and doesn’t have the elite speed that Connor McDavid had at same age. However, he is a good skater who starts skating a half second before anyone else, allowing him to recieve the puck in transition while already moving, giving defenders little chance to defend against him. With that being said, Bedard’s crossovers and shiftiness in the offensive zone are excellent. He doesn’t need to be the absolute fastest to evade defenders.
One of the of Bedard’s game is his shooting ability. He favours the right circle and can get shots through defenders very effectively, much like Auston Matthews. Bedard loves to shooot and it’s no secret why. He’s just as dangerous shooting off the rush as he is from a standstill. I’d like to see him add a more lethal one-timer element to his shooting arsenal.
The trait that makes Bedard stand out is his hockey IQ. He seems to read defenders and pressure like a book, looking so calm and confident with the puck as if he can predict opponents’ next moves. His passing ability is excellent- he finds narrow seams and uses deception to get his passes to high danger areas.
If you want a more detailed look of Connor Bedard’s skills, I made a video of all his points in the WHL and U18’s last season:
With all the information above taken care off, we can now look to see how Bedard will perform in the 2021-22 season.
Connor Bedard will enter the season as the Pats’ cornerstone and lone superstar. He will be given every opportunity to suceed and should see added icetime compared to the 2020-21 season.
In addition, the talent surrounding Bedard is looking a little stronger this year. Regina went of their way to add some pieces in hopes of making a playoff run- something that looks realistic this season with Bedard at the helm. Key pieces around Bedard will be:
While the talent level isn’t great here, there are some positives. Zack Stringer has the potential to be the best linemate Bedard has played with to this point. Stringer will have no problem finishing the elite passes that Bedard sends his way and can be a net front distraction so Bedard can unload his heavy wrister. Dubinsky, Smith, and Chorney will all return to the team as improved players and can hopefully play key roles in the top six.
Evans should quarterback the powerplay once again after a very succesful campaign in that role last season. Svozil will be an effective puck mover and offensive contributor at even strength.
This might sound crazy, but I think Bedard actually got a bit unlucky last season- he scored only 12 goals on 106 shots. That’s a solid number for an average player but Bedard’s shot is elite. We know how good his shot is from the right circle and if you look at the chart above, you can see how many of his shots came from there. So, we know there’s some room to improve for Bedard when it comes to his production. With added improvments to his game, a little growth, and some added strength, Bedard should be able to improve his production signifcantly.
Let’s take a look at some former NHL superstar prospects and how they produced in their D-1 seasons to see how Bedard’s 2021-22 campaing could compare to these players. We’ll adjust everyone’s numbers to account for the scoring levels of the era and compare them to the WHL in 2020-21, where Connor Bedard played last season. I plugged Connor Bedard’s D-2 season in there just for fun.
So what we see here is that Bedard’s D-2 season was actually more impressive than most of these once-hyped prospects’ D-1 seasons.
I suspect Bedard will challenge Crosby for the #1 spot on that list this upcoming season. I’m not sure if he will reach it given he has no superstar teamates to play with, but it will surely be interesting to watch.
What I expect
Given Bedard’s spectacular offensive performance in the short season, the expectations are going to be for him to increase his production even more. I think this season he will cross the 2.00 P/GP mark but won’t quite reach Crosby’s D-1 rate of 2.29. Somewhere in between that range is a very fair prediction for Bedard.
I don’t feel like he has the quality of teammates to score higher numbers and the WHL is also a very tough league to score in, or at least usually. However, his talent level was already so high last season, it’s downright scary to imagine him coming back after six months of training and growth.
I’m curious to see which skills he has strengthened over the summer and if/how much he has grown since the U18’s in April. If he adds an extra element of speed to his game and gains considerable strength, it’s frightening how good he could become.
I think whatever we see from Bedard in terms of offensive production, I can guarantee he will end up on the highlight reel many, many times.
And as for his chances to make Team Canada, I think they would making a huge mistake no to take him. I think he has not only the potential to make an impact on that team but he has a good chance to be the best player on the team.