Containing teen phenom Connor Bedard is no easy feat — just ask the top players in the Canadian Hockey League.
Hot off his second gold medal for Canada at the world junior hockey championship last month, Bedard is set to highlight the Kubota CHL/NHL top prospects game on Wednesday night when 40 of the junior hockey league’s top talents will go head-to-head in Langley, B.C.
Matching up against the star centre for the Western Hockey League’s Regina Pats is going to be a mammoth task, said defenceman Oliver Bonk.
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“Just do your best,” said the blueliner for the Ontario Hockey League’s London Knights. “You can’t back up too much because he’s going to blow by you, you can’t let him shoot because he’s got a bullet of a shot. So it’s going to be tough, but I’ll do my best.”
Bedard, a 17-year-old from North Vancouver, B.C., has left jaws slack with his incredible play both for the Pats and Team Canada, and is widely anticipated to go No. 1 at the NHL entry draft this summer.
He’s the first player granted exceptional status to play in the WHL a year early at age 15, and set numerous scoring records at the world juniors last month.
He also comes into the top prospects game on a stunning 32-game point streak in league play and sits atop the WHL with 81 points (39 goals, 42 assists) in 33 appearances this season.
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Competing against Bedard is a lot of fun, said Nate Danielson, a centre for the WHL’s Brandon Wheat Kings.
“He’s pretty dynamic. I think we’ve all seen that sort of the past while now watching him,” Danielson said. “I think you’ve just got to play your own game, and he’s going to do what he does out there. And you’ve just got to sort of deal with it as it comes.”
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As a defenceman for the WHL’s Tri-City Americans, Lukas Dragicevic doesn’t match up against Bedard often these days, and that’s just fine by him.
“I grew up playing against him and he’s been doing all that to me. So I’m happy to see him doing that to other defencemen, not to me,” Dragicevic, who hails Richmond, B.C., said with a smile.
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Limiting the young superstar’s offence is all about awareness, Dragicevic added.
“You’ve just got to know he’s on the ice and where he is. And you guys have seen his shot, so he can score from anywhere,” he said. “You’ve always got to be prepared for it and know where he is.”
While Bedard is the favourite to go first overall, this year’s NHL draft class is expected to be deep with talent.
Those expectations come with extra attention for the up-and-coming stars. Wednesday’s game is expected to be played in front of a sold-out crowd at the 5,276-seat Langley Event Centre, with dozens of NHL scouts and managers in attendance.
Handling the extra eyes doesn’t create too much extra pressure, Bonk said.
“I think the biggest thing is that (scouts and NHL management) want winners,” he said. “So it’s easy to focus on the team. And, obviously, if the team is doing really well, you’re going to do well.”
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Being from B.C., Bedard caused a flurry of interest when the Pats swung through the province on a lengthy road trip in late November and early December.
In every B.C. city where Regina played — Vancouver, Victoria, Kelowna, Kamloops and Prince George — a sellout occurred.
“This is the first time in the 30-plus years I’ve been in this business where a player has created this much interest,” Kelowna Rockets president and general manager Bruce Hamilton told Global News.
Notably, the Pats went 4-1 in B.C., with their lone loss being a 9-3 decision in Kamloops on Nov. 30. In that game, though, Bedard tallied three points with two goals and an assist.
— With files from Doyle Potenteau
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