In the 18 years prior to this season that Hockey Canada has sent a team to the World Under-18 Championship, only one player had played in the tournament prior to celebrating his 16th birthday. That player was John Tavares. And there have only been two players who would qualify for what Hockey Canada calls “double underagers.” Those players are Tavares and Connor McDavid.
That club is about to get a little less exclusive when the puck drops for Canada’s tournament-opening game against Sweden early next week. That’s because Connor Bedard, who doesn’t turn 16 until July, will be in the lineup for Canada. And if you’re a fan of Canada’s national teams, you might want to get used to seeing this young man carrying his country’s colors, because he’ll be doing it for a long time.
It will be interesting to see what Bedard can accomplish against the best draft-eligible players in the world. We’ve already seen what he can do against players who are up to five years his senior in the Western League, where he led the league in scoring with 12 goals and 28 points in just 15 games before going into quarantine to prepare for the Worlds. Canada has 14 forwards, 10 of whom are listed as centers. So Hockey Canada asked the Regina Pats to play Bedard on the wing for two games to help him adjust to what will likely be a change of position for the tournament. All he did in those two games was score four goals and six points – on the eight goals the Pats scored in those games – including an overtime winner, which he scored just days after learning his grandfather had been killed in a car accident.
To have a country with the enormous player pool Canada possesses putting a 15-year-old on an under-18 team is nothing short of remarkable. But Berard has been a remarkable player for quite some time now. He’s certainly an exceptional one, as evidenced by him becoming the first player in WHL history to attain exceptional player status from Hockey Canada. He’s tracking with the best players to ever play the game based on the small sample size he provided in his first 15 games in the WHL. Not that Bedard nor anyone from his family will tell you.
“I don’t want to tell people what I’m doing,” Bedard told TheHockeyNews.com. “I don’t really enjoy bragging about myself. I’d rather celebrate other people’s success. If my buddy is doing well, I’ll kind of talk about that, pump him up a bit. For that sort of stuff, staying grounded is pretty important.”
It’s refreshing to see a player like Bedard, one that has otherworldly skills, but almost seems obliviously unaware of them. In fact, despite the fact he’s been an elite player for years, Bedard didn’t even know Canada had an under-18 team or that the Under-18 World Championship even existed until the day before he was informed he was going to be on the team.
“I have a buddy on Kamloops and he sent me something about Logan (Stankoven) because he was going to leave (for the tournament),” Bedard said. “It was a tweet about how Kamloops was going to lose Stankoven for the rest of the year because of this and that was the first time I had ever heard of it. The next morning I got a phone call about making the team, so it was definitely a real surprise for me.”
This will be Bedard’s first time wearing Canada’s colors. The crazy thing is he’ll be eligible to play in two more of these tournaments before he’s drafted in 2023, but he and the Pats are counting on being busy in the playoffs the next two seasons. It would surprise nobody if Bedard was not only a part of the 2022 World Junior team, but a major contributor. He’s that good.
“Obviously, this is the best of the best, so it’s going to be fun to play against and play with (those players),” Bedard said. “There is definitely a lot I’m excited for. I’ve never been to Texas and never played for Hockey Canada, so it’s going to be a pretty cool experience.”
Would Hockey Canada ever consider bringing a 15-year-old player to the men’s World Championship? Almost certainly not, but wouldn’t that be interesting? All the national federations are going to have trouble getting NHL players to play in this year’s tournament, which is due to start May 21 in Latvia. So why not load up on junior and college players to give them the experience and see what happens? Probably won’t happen, but you can always dream.