Connor Bedard’s lighting up the World Junior Championship for Team Canada with 21 points in five games. There’s only so much one can draw from five games and one tournament, but in Bedard’s case, his play is just confirming what the last few years of his career have shown: He has the potential to be a force in the NHL. That’s why he’s projected to go No. 1 in the 2023 draft.
The question is how impactful he can be in his first NHL season, and where he’ll stack up to some of the other greats in recent years — the players who were highly anticipated No. 1 picks and made an instant impact in the NHL.
Let’s take a closer look.
There are a few ways to project the potential impact a player like Bedard can bring to the NHL by the numbers. One way is to explore others following a similar path to the center — getting drafted to the NHL from the WHL. That’s where quite a few players developed, including first-round picks.
The challenge is finding a legitimate match for Bedard who has scored at a rate of 1.83 points per game with the Regina Pats. No other WHL skater has come close to that in the modern era. The highest scoring rate among WHL forwards who were selected in Round 1 of the NHL since 2007-08 belongs to Sven Bärtschi, who certainly didn’t create a path for Bedard to follow. Neither did Brayden Schenn, who scored at a rate of 1.4 points per game in the WHL.
The likes of Mathew Barzal and Leon Draisaitl are closer in caliber to what Bedard’s expected to grow into. But neither one was an immediate impact player at the NHL level, either. Barzal stayed with the Seattle Thunderbirds for two more seasons, while Draisaitl split time between leagues in his first season. A team may be betting on Bedard to hit his stride sooner, though, because players who are drafted No. 1 have both a high ceiling and a quicker path to hitting that impact status.
Using NHL equivalency (NHLe) with his WHL scoring thanks to The Athletic’s Dom Luszczyszyn, we can project him tallying 72 points in his draft-plus-one year at the NHL level. A more consistent curve could be ahead for Bedard, versus say Draisaitl, who took a few years to hit his peak.
But this is only one way to look at the center’s potential, and a flawed one at that. NHLe isn’t perfect, nor is boxing ourselves into just looking at WHLers.
That’s why it’s more fitting to break out past Bedard’s background and look to the future — a future that may include a No. 1 selection at the draft.