“Hurry hard for Bedard!”
NHL GMs sitting at the bottom of the standings are dusting off their tanking caps as they prepare to unload as many veterans as they can before the March 3 trade deadline.
Gary Bettman may be correct in stating that NHL coaches and players aren’t losing on purpose but he made no mention of management staff. It’s a race to the bottom for the league’s worst teams as they jockey for the most promising draft lottery odds.
It’s not every year that a Connor Bedard comes along, and the entire hockey world knows it. Winning the draft lottery this season may well be a franchise changer.
“I think he can be a franchise player,” said one scout. “And I never say that. I went to see him in a game before the World Junior and he was dangerous every single shift. He thinks the game a step ahead of everybody else.’
After a relatively average start (for him) to his season, Bedard caught fire in November, and has yet to cool off. In the 26 games he has played since Novermber 1, Bedard has accumulated 72 points. That included his record-breaking performance at the World Juniors that established him as the most prolific Canadian scorer in the tournament’s history.
“There’s no one close to his natural skill level,” noted another scout. “Everyone thought he was a shooter I think going into the year but his playmaking may be even better. The biggest change that I saw from last year was his skating. He worked on it, obviously.”
In seven World Junior games, Bedard had nine goals and 23 points, yet was on the ice for just three goals against while compiling an unprecedented CORSI rating of 68 percent. He more than doubled the point total of the second-highest scorer on his team, making it the most dominant WJC performance ever…and he was just 17.
Adam Fantilli started the WJC on a line with Connor Bedard but was aked to play a checking-line role in the remaining six games. He came up big in the semi-final versus the US, and was arguably Canada’s best player.
“For a guy who could have played in a higher role, he actually had a good tournament for what he was asked to do,” said a scout. “His compete level, skating and his natural skill is good but he just wasn’t put in a role. What he is doing at the NCAA level is pretty impressive.”
Fantilli continues to lead all NCAA players in points per game, with 39 in just 22 games. The last freshman to accomplish that, Jack Eichel, just happened to be picked second overall in a draft with the last franchise player going first overall in Connor McDavid.
“He’s a pretty good all-around player,” said one scout. “He competes hard, he’s hard to play against and he has skill.”
What gives him an edge over Leo Carlsson is that he’s proven he can play center by leading Michigan in a first-line center role as a freshman.
I see him as a center,” added the scout. “He’s dynamic enough and gritty enough to be a top-two NHL center…perhaps even an elite number-one pivot. That is a pretty attractive piece.”
On the surface, it may not seem like Dalibor Dvorsky had a strong WJC tournament as he had just one goal and three points. Closer inspection reveals, however, that the draft-eligible Slovakian was terrific defensively while facing some of the best offensive talent in the event.
Despite playing more than 100 minutes in his five matches and being tasked with checking Connor Bedard, Logan Cooley, Dans Locmelis and Joakim Kemell among others as Slovakia’s shutdown center, he was on the ice for just two goals against while compiling a 53% CORSI.
Dvorsky is ranked anywhere from ninth to 19 on public lists. Recrutes has him much higher at third overall.
“I don’t understand those rankings,” said a scout who saw Dvorsky three times in a week in the Allsvenskan before the World Juniors, and was highly impressed. “You don’t have to convince me that he’s a top-five guy. It’s all about projection. It’s not what they’re doing right now performance-wise. You’re not a coach.
Dvorsky has 11 points in 27 games for AIK playing against men this season. The fact that he is playing a top-three center role well before he turns 18 is impressive enough in itself.
“It’s hard to get points in the Allsvenskan,” said the scout. “Just watch the games. They’re not high-scoring games. I’m with you, I love him. He’s one of the better two-way forwards in this draft class. He plays a mature game.”
Every time that Dvorsky plays against players of a similar age, he puts up big numbers. In six Swedish junior games this season, he scored ten points. In five games at the Hlinka Gretzky in August of 2021 after having just turned 16, he scored eight goals and 12 points in five games.
“You don’t see (offence) all the time because he’s playing in a men’s league,” explained the scout. “It’s like a rookie playing in the NHL as an 18-year-old. It’s hard to see that. Hopefully we see him at the U18s with Slovakia, and just like last year it will shut up all your naysayers. At the end, I don’t know where he’ll be but he’ll be in my top five. People get stuck on what they last saw on a player,” said the scout. “They don’t take into consideration the big picture like you do.”
Leo Carlsson did nothing to hurt his draft ranking at the WJC, scoring three goals and six points in a top-six role for the Swedes, and demonstrating that he’s a big winger who will produce at the NHL level once he’s ready. That may be sooner than later.
“He sees the ice well, and he has good creativity,” said one scout who moved him into his top three after the event. “I’d like to see him shoot more. He’s got a great shot. I see him as a winger. Everyone thinks he’s a winger I would say. That’s where we’ve always seen him play, and he looks quite comfortable and effective on the wing.”
The only knock on Carlsson is his willingness to get his nose dirty. He can play a bit on the outside, albeit against players who are older and more mature physically.
“He’s not gritty enough in the hard areas but I like his small area play and instincts,” said one scout. “I think it’s a bit of an identity crisis. I think he wants to be a bit fancier than what his game will probably be. Once he realizes he can use his frame and play a little heavier instead of the cute way…he’ll learn that.”
It’s not often that you see one of the two most skilled players in a draft class ranked outside of the top four but the political uncertainty surrounding Matvei Michkov will hinder him on draft day.
“I’ve only seen video this year but he’s a really good player,” said one scout who has him ranked fourth overall. “He would probably be two if you were able to see live views of him. He can turn a game, he’s got skill to break a game open. It’s all the Russian factor. I think you have him four or five probably, and does he slide to nine or ten? Possibly. But there are the Carolinas and Washingtons out there that have no issue going off the board.”