The Chicago Blackhawks have the No. 1 overall pick in the 2023 NHL Draft, and as such, the Connor Bedard hype train has reached terminal velocity ahead of Wednesday night.
It may seem like too much buzz for a 17-year-old stud who has yet to play an NHL shift, but Bedard really does have the pre-draft resume to justify it.
Few of the top NHL Draft prospects over the last decade have received as much attention as Bedard — and that list includes Nathan MacKinnon, Connor McDavid and Auston Matthews. It’s because Bedard completely dominated his draft year, both in the Western Hockey League and at the World Junior Championship.
In his time with the WHL’s Regina Pats, Bedard posted some eye-popping numbers, especially for his age.
2021-22: Bedard became the first 16 year old to score 50 goals in a single WHL season.
2022-23: Bedard tallied 143 points (71 goals and 72 assists), which led the WHL by 36 points.
2023 playoffs: Bedard notched 10 goals and 10 assists in seven playoff games.
In addition to those numbers in junior hockey, Bedard has two World Junior Championship gold medals. He was a superstar at the 2023 tournament.
2022: Bedard scored four goals and added four assists in Canada’s gold-medal run.
2023: Bedard set a Canadian record with 23 points and was named tournament MVP.
Even before 2023, Bedard cemented his place atop the 2023 NHL Draft board. He compares quite favorably to some of the most highly-touted No. 1 overall picks in recent memory. To prove it, let’s look at how Bedard stacks up with MacKinnon, McDavid and Matthews.
Nathan MacKinnon, 2013 draft class
In the 2013 NHL Draft, MacKinnon was the top pick, selected ahead of players like Aleksander Barkov and Seth Jones.
Entering that draft, MacKinnon was highly regarded as a franchise player after a fantastic career with the Halifax Mooseheads of the QMJHL. Even at the age of 16, MacKinnon put up gaudy numbers in Halifax.
2011-12: MacKinnon totaled 31 goals and 47 assists in 58 games as a 16-year-old.
2012-13: MacKinnon scored 32 goals and tallied 75 points in just 44 games.
MacKinnon’s junior hockey career was good enough to make him the best prospect in the 2013 draft, but he wasn’t able to find as much success as Bedard in the World Junior Championships. MacKinnon earned a spot on Team Canada in 2013, but he tallied just one assist in six games as the team stumbled to a fourth-place finish.
Connor McDavid, 2015 draft class
McDavid was the definition of a generational prospect. He had the size, speed, production and intangibles necessary to succeed at the NHL level, and he has delivered on the goods (he still hasn’t won a Stanley Cup, though) in eight seasons with the Edmonton Oilers.
Even at an early age, McDavid had the makings of a potential NHL superstar. He was only 15 years old when he began his career with the OHL’s Erie Otters, but didn’t look out of place at all.
2012-13: McDavid scored 25 goals and 66 points in 63 games in his first junior hockey season.
2013-14: McDavid displayed his elite passing ability with 71 assists and 99 points in 56 games.
2014-15: McDavid took his goal-scoring to another level with 44 tallies in 47 games while posting 120 points.
2015 OHL playoffs: In just 20 playoff games, McDavid recorded 21 goals and 28 assists.
McDavid was already a superstar before the draft because of the way he torched the OHL, but he also played well in two World Junior tournaments. He played in the 2014 tournament at 16 and helped lead Canada to a gold medal in 2015.
2014: McDavid scored one goal and added three assists while Canada finished fourth.
2015: McDavid was tied for the tournament lead in points (11) as Canada won gold.
Between his physical tools and his production in the OHL and World Junior Championship, there wasn’t any doubt that McDavid was an incredibly rare prospect. The fact that Bedard has the statistics and the accolades to match McDavid only makes him more tantalizing to NHL scouts.
Auston Matthews, 2016 draft class
Matthews’ pre-draft path to the NHL was a less traditional than others, but it was still clear that he was an elite prospect.
In his final season on the U.S. National U-18 Team, Matthews led the team in scoring by 10 points, and that roster included players like Matthew Tkachuk and Jack Roslovic. In his draft year, Matthews went to play for Zurich SC of the Swiss-A League and held his own against professionals in Europe.
2014-15: Matthews led the U.S. national team in goals (20), assists (28) and points (48).
2015-16: Matthews led Zurich SC in goals (24), which was tied for fourth in the league — despite missing 14 games.
Matthews’ goal-scoring ability also translated to the World Junior Championship. He had a relatively quiet tournament as an 18 year old in 2015, but he bounced back in 2016.
2015: Matthews scored one goal and notched two assists as Team USA failed to medal.
2016: Matthews tallied seven goals and 11 points in seven games; USA won bronze.
Matthews was a big center who could score goals at an impressive clip, and that has translated very well at the NHL level. Bedard doesn’t have Matthews’ size, but he has shown a similar penchant for filling the net.
No matter how you slice it, Bedard is in rare air in terms of his pre-draft resume. Even those best prospects of the last 10 years above struggle to compete when it comes to Bedard’s achievements in junior hockey and on the international stage.
In a recent poll of five NHL scouts and executives conducted by The Athletic, Bedard was ranked as the second-best No. 1 prospect of the last decade, dating back to 2014. Only McDavid ranked ahead of Bedard, due to the Oilers star’s larger size and unmatched speed.
That doesn’t mean Bedard will be just as good or better than McDavid, Matthews and MacKinnon. Physical traits like size and speed can’t be overlooked when projecting a prospects NHL career, and no two prospects develop at the same rate.
That said, it’s easy to look at what Bedard has done to this point in his career and imagine him as one of the top five players in the league sooner rather than later.