Since the 2005 NHL Entry Draft, where Sidney Crosby was selected first overall, six centres playing in the CHL have been the draft’s top selection. The Edmonton Oilers have had the opportunity to select two of those players, in Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Connor McDavid, knowing better than most that no two are created quite the same. Some, like RNH, were simply the top option at the time, while others, like McDavid were touted years out, going as far as to influence transactions all across the NHL with his prospects.
Dawning on us is a new age, halfway through the draft season of one Connor Bedard. He shares with McDavid the years-long burden of his imminence, the careful scrutiny and rationalisation of beyond gaudy point totals. So too they might share stiff competition from an NCAA prospect, with Adam Fantilli looking to reprise the role of Jack Eichel within a draft class that features even more talent pushing for greatness beyond them. McDavid’s 2015 draft class has earned its share of praise recently, and it’s not out of the question that 2023’s class might be even better.
As summer draws nearer, draft lists begin to solidify, and the question on the minds of many will be how Bedard stacks up against some of the greats before him, including, and especially, against McDavid.
Taking a look at Bedard’s stats compared to previously drafted players
For starters let’s look at the draft year stats for Bedard and the six CHL centres selected first overall since 2005, sorted by points per game.
|Player Name||DY Goals/Game||DY Points/Game||Games||Goals||Points|
Amongst some names, if not most of these players, likely headed for the Hall of Fame, Bedard’s production more than measures up.
Of course, the CHL and its leagues have evolved over time (perhaps not enough, a separate conversation), and though the strengths of the leagues can vary over time, this list does provide a frame of reference of sorts. Crosby leads the way in both goals per game and points per game, but by these metrics the trio of Crosby, McDavid, and Bedard are in a noticeably different stratosphere than the rest.
Points are not the sole expression of an NHL player’s value, and although there is a lot of data around production equivalency scores, such as NHLe, they should not be the entirety of one’s analysis. For the time being, McDavid’s points per game are closer to Crosby’s than to Bedard’s.
It is worth pondering how often any player should make the jump to the NHL immediately following their draft year, especially top picks in recent years. With the back half of his rookie season in front of him, Bedard might well increase his scoring rates. There is no question that this should be his final junior season, and Bedard’s resume suggests that he will follow in Crosby and McDavid’s footsteps by producing at a high level in the NHL as an 18-year-old.
Bedard may have the better shot compared to Crosby and McDavid
Both Crosby and McDavid are known first for their playmaking skills, but McDavid looks poised to join Crosby in winning a Rocket Richard trophy at some point in the near future. That said, Bedard might well have the most notable goal scoring prowess of the three, though there is a long way to go yet. Unlike Crosby and McDavid, Bedard’s shot, and willingness to shoot, are among his greatest strengths, a fact that might see him surpass Crosby’s draft year goals per game mark by season’s end.
The most obvious comparison here, strengthened by Bedard’s own endorsement, is to the curl-and-drag wrister of Auston Matthews. This technique allows the shooter to change the angle of release quickly and substantially, all the while punishing over-aggressive stick checks, turning would-be defenders into screens. Able to deliver with power and accuracy, Bedard can get his shots off quickly, mid-stride or deke, with an explosive change of direction, a dangerous amount of variation to exploit defenders and goaltenders alike.
Does Bedard shoot too much?
If there were ever something resembling a knock on Bedard’s game, it might be some thinking that he shoots too much. Of course his shot is quite dangerous in it’s own right, but that does not always mean it is the best play. Concerns like these might have been most prevalent early during last season, Bedard’s draft -1 season of 2021–22, that saw him fire an incredible amount of shots with merely solid production, yet not quite as overwhelming as he might have been capable of (which is still beyond impressive for most).
Of course, the world did shut down for a couple years, so many strange things occurred around that time. In truth, Bedard’s Regina Pats were not a good team last season, so it might be said that Bedard did not have an abundance of better options but to shoot at the time.
To fully dispel concerns here, Bedard shone with and against better players in international tournaments. Forming instant chemistry with elite players, Bedard was orchestrating passing plays alongside high level teammates. It took almost no time for Bedard and linemate Mason McTavish to start making highlight reel give and go plays, looking more like the Sedin twins or McDavid and Draisaitl than they did teenagers. For this reason the best of Bedard’s playmaking is yet to come, and a new level to his offence might be unlocked alongside NHL talent. This is in no way a slight to Tanner Howe. A year younger than Bedard, he has been a good linemate, but the Pats have only two drafted players on their roster this season.
Bedard’s speed draws similarities to McDavid
Perhaps the biggest difference between McDavid and all other players is the obscene speed that the Oilers centre embodies. While Bedard does not have the same level of top speed as McDavid does, a rather absurd and irrelevant bar, there are a lot of similarities beyond that.
Bedard has exceptional agility and acceleration, using a high degree of both physical and technical prowess in navigating the ice. Advanced edges allow for incredible agility, able to attack the ice laterally on a dime. Like McDavid, Bedard is not only able to reach these speeds, but displays that his hands and mind operate at equal levels as well.
Able to corral pucks in stride, any time the puck is within the radius of Bedard’s stick it seems at his command. Even while at top speed or while changing direction, Bedard can move the puck across his body or forward to free space ahead of him. Simply put, the hands are as slick as any, more than keeping up with his skating.
Bedard can explode into space, and can do just about anything with the puck at the same time, but how these skills are leveraged is what really makes the difference. It’s plain to see that Bedard is able to process the game faster than his opponents, often and aptly illustrated by his going one way and the defenders going the other. No one wants to be caught in slow motion getting bamboozled by Bedard, but more than once per shift it seems inevitable.
Elite in all areas, McDavid and Bedard multiply these skills in orchestra with each other, deceiving opponents, manipulating space, and ultimately delivering the puck to more dangerous opportunities for their side.
From transporting the puck through the neutral zone, attacking off the rush, or bewildering the opposition during in-zone offence, Bedard exudes brilliance, control, and mastery, with the puck. At the elite levels of hockey, this often means faster than fast.
The future looks bright for Bedard
The path ahead is still long for Bedard, and we will all have the opportunity to find out where things go for him. Are the comparisons to Crosby or McDavid fair? Perhaps not, but they are warranted to an extent given Bedard’s brilliance.
The truth is the ink is not dry for either McDavid or Crosby yet either. Crosby is still one of the top NHL players this season, let alone historically. Crosby won back to back C*nn Smyt*e trophies while McDavid ascended to the public’s top individual ranking, one of his finest achievements. McDavid has evolved into a legitimate Rocket Richard candidate as the league’s top goal scorer this very season.
It was not in Crosby or McDavid’s first seasons that they became heralded as the best in the game. Over the course of three seasons or so, such questions sprung from seedlings into inevitabilities. If Bedard is able to completely live up to those collective expectations, this rough landmark would land around when McDavid turns 29 years old.
Granted, when McDavid “claimed” this very unofficial status from Crosby, the circumstances were different. For one with the gap between Crosby and McDavid being ten years, and that between McDavid and Bedard being only eight. Might McDavid be able to hold off Bedard another year or two for this reason?
On that note, how much is McDavid’s reign as best tied to the lack of championships in the form of Cups (out of his control) and Olympic medals (even more so)? As much as any paranoias around MVP status might befall Oil Country, the sensitivity would be increased were Bedard to threaten whatever championship window the Oilers might have.
McDavid’s lack of team success was a focus early, and pessimistically has only ever subsided briefly after playoff runs in 2017 and 2022. Especially early on, the focus was on how long it took for the Oilers to get to point A or B, by year X or Y, to “keep pace” with the Pittsburgh Penguins, and by extension Crosby. Even up to the level of Oilers GM, the benchmark of Crosby’s Penguins have been a bar used to measure shortcomings.
It should be said that no two situations, or players, are exactly alike, and it can be a disservice to let comparisons impair our judgement, as opposed to informing it. The re-started NHL of 2005 was its own chaos, with separate challenges and opportunities than the Oilers faced circa 2015, so too will they be for Bedard’s eventual 2023 team.
The real takeaway here is to appreciate the world in front of us. We each have our own path, and many paths we travel together. This is, after all, the luxurious prospect of comparing the artistry of ice wizards. We must allow each of these players to make their own path in their own time, just as we must allow ourselves, and each other, to do the same. There is a better future on and off the ice, and the first step of getting there is believing we can.
Photo by Melissa Tamez/Icon Sportswire