Connor Bedard’s world juniors could put NHL tanking in hyperdrive: LeBrun

There seems little doubt that this is the kind of prospect an NHL franchise should go all out for.

There’s always a risk in overreacting to a player’s World Juniors performance, good or bad, but what we’ve seen so far from Connor Bedard is jaw-dropping, a staggering 21 points in five last-gasp games, sending Canada to the quarterfinals on Monday with an overtime goal they’ll play again forever.

And if you’re on those cellar teams in the NHL standings, it certainly reinforces what you probably already felt about the player.

“My first draft with Ottawa was already back in 1995, albeit in a part-time role,” Blue Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen said. Athleticism Monday morning. “The first thing I learned from John Ferguson Sr., my first scouting boss, was to look for guys who ‘want to make a difference’.

“I think we can all agree on Bedard’s ability/talent, but for him to want to make a difference almost every shift is exceptional.

“Exceptional players win championships.”

The injury-riddled Jackets, last in the Eastern Conference standings, will have a chance to see him in the draft lottery, along with the Blackhawks, Ducks, Sharks, Coyotes, Canadiens and Flyers, among others .

I say among “the others” because there is a lot of hockey left and the teams have time to stumble in the rankings and enter the fray of the Bédard lottery. What about the Blues after Monday’s injury announcement for Ryan O’Reilly and Vladimir Tarasenko?

What will be interesting to watch in the coming weeks is how quickly some of these teams start trading players before the March 3 deadline.

As they do, of course, part of the objective will be to recover futures type assets. But the other benefit, especially with trades happening sooner rather than later, will be to further weaken the current NHL rosters of these teams and help bolster the chances of the draw.

Like, the Coyotes have probably won more games than they really wanted so far. Does it add urgency to trade Jakob Chychrun as soon as an acceptable offer is on the table? Uh, while no one with the Coyotes will say this publicly, I’m here to tell you the answer is an emphatic yes.

Because Bedard is worth the candle.

“At this age, the best prospect since Crosby,” said a longtime NHL team executive with a background in scouting, who requested anonymity. “Elite skill is one thing, but the ability to rise to the occasion is something you rarely see. He’s done it on the international stage and in the WHL. Seems to like a challenge for him personally or at the team level.

An NHL general manager added Monday, who also requested anonymity: “He is a generational talent and he has proven it for several years, despite his age. I expect Connor Bedard to be a fundamental piece for the organization that will have the chance to recruit him.

Again, I’m always wary of overestimating World Junior performances, anyway. But what we see is something else.

Is Bedard the best prospect since at least Auston Matthews?

“Best since McDavid,” TSN chief scouting director Craig Button told me without hesitation Monday morning.

“I don’t want to lose the sense of ‘generational’ by using it too much, do I? If we have generational players every three years, then it gets out of hand, right? I think we saw (Bedard) as a franchise superstar, you know. But I find it difficult to defend not having him as a generational player.

“Because if there’s anyone straddling the line, it’s him. And he didn’t do anything so that we wouldn’t think he was overstepping the mark.

Button never thought Matthews, for example, was a generational player. A superstar yes, but generational, no.

“Bedard? He gives me a lot of time to think,” Button said over the phone from Moncton, New Brunswick.

Button has watched decades of world junior tournaments.

“(Peter) Forsberg dominated the 1993 tournament; he was 19,” Button said. “I saw 19-year-olds dominate the tournament. I have never seen such a young player dominate the tournament. Now (Jaromir) Jagr was great in 1990, but he didn’t top it. He was damn good at 17, but he didn’t top it.

“It’s not even close between Bedard and everyone here.”

On the other hand, I was a little wary of an answer from AthleticismWell-respected prospect expert Corey Pronman on Monday morning when I asked him if Bedard was the best prospect he’s seen since Matthews.

“The big question about Bedard is whether he’s an NHL center or not,” Pronman said. “That could end up putting him behind Matthews, (Nathan) MacKinnon, etc., at the same age.”

Legendary draft guru Bob McKenzie, my friend and TSN colleague, has been around the world junior championships and the NHL draft for a long, long time.

“All I know is he’s special,” McKenzie said over the phone from Halifax. “Now where exactly this is, I don’t know. But he is special. And he’s more special than I thought when I saw him this summer. He has the elite, the sniper. He shoots the puck like Auston Matthews right now, at 17. He has the best shot I’ve ever seen of anyone coming out of junior hockey. I’ve never seen anyone shoot the puck like this kid shoots it. So shooting is what separates him from absolutely everyone else he plays against in terms of his peers.

But there is obviously more.

“I also think he has elite hockey sense. I think he has the ability to see the ice and make plays,” McKenzie continued. “I think he’s shown that in the last two games here with some of the assists he’s had.

“I said this on air: he’s not as tall as Mario (Lemieux), he’s not as powerful and complete as Sid (Crosby), he’s not as fast as Connor McDavid, he’s not a prototypical center, he could be a winger more than a National Hockey League center — I don’t know, but it’s a real possibility — but all I know is that whatever it is, he has it. And there are many.

So don’t be surprised if some lottery teams start their trading timeout clearance a little earlier than usual this season. Because the motivation to cement the best possible odds for the lottery took on a whole new level of urgency after Bedard’s World Junior performance.

(Photo: Darren Calabrese/The Canadian Press via AP)

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