NHL Draft moment almost here for phenom Bedard
NASHVILLE — Connor Bedard strode into a bright room on the 11th floor of an office tower overlooking Bridgestone Arena.
He took his place at the podium before a phalanx of cameras and a few dozen reporters.
It was a spot he's slowly grown accustomed to — being the centre of attention.
Discussed in hockey circles as the potential "Next One" for a significant chunk of his young life, the 17-year-old phenom's moment has nearly arrived.
Bedard is all but assured of being selected with the No. 1 pick by the Chicago Blackhawks in the first round of the NHL draft on Wednesday, a moment that will signify the closing of one chapter and the beginning of another that — if projections are accurate — could see him eventually seated alongside the game's greats.
"I don't really know what to expect or what I think I'll feel," the centre from North Vancouver, B.C., with a bullet shot and a stunning tool belt of skill and intelligence said Tuesday of what it will be like hearing his name called.
Bedard, who was still in grade school when the articles about his talents first appeared, has also had plenty of runway to prepare.
"It was pretty gradual, it wasn't an overnight thing," he said Tuesday of his rise to stardom. "That helps out a bit, learn how to deal with things. It's gone up a bit this year with the draft.
"It's been good to have it gradually grow."
It's now at a fever pitch with the draft right finally at his doorstep.
And some of the players who have walked in similar shoes know what Bedard is going through as the hours tick down.
"I wouldn't say it's fair or unfair," Edmonton Oilers captain Connor McDavid, the top pick in 2015, said of the pressure and hype. "It's part of the gig. We want to play hockey, and want to play in the NHL, and live out our dream.
"When you're really good, those expectations and those demands come."
Tampa Bay Lightning captain Steven Stamkos, the No. 1 pick in 2008, works out with McDavid in the summer, and met Bedard at one of those training sessions in the Toronto area.
"Great, down-to-earth kid," Stamkos said. "There's a lot of pressure that comes with being a first overall pick, especially one as highly touted as him. I'm not sure I was in the same category as that coming up, but he's got his head on his shoulders. He comes from, what I can tell, a good family.
"The skill speaks for itself. We've all seen the videos of him shooting pucks and in the gym — the work ethic's there, as well. I'm excited to see what he can do next year."
Bedard was grateful for the chance to spend time with both players ahead of his big moment.
"Really nice people," he said. "Getting to be with them and see how they approach every day, and then get a few (pieces) of advice."
Bedard's dad, Tom, said in a recent interview he's been impressed with how his son has navigated the attention since a young age.
"It's surprising sometimes with all the different things going on," Tom Bedard said. "But he seems to handle it pretty well to this point.
"Hopefully that continues."
Tom Bedard has also seen that drive up close ever since Connor first laced up the skates.
"I don't think he's ever totally satisfied," said the elder Bedard. "He thinks he can get a little better at this or a little better at that."
Trades dominated the day before the draft as the Winnipeg Jets ended the Pierre-Luc Dubois saga by shipping the centre to the Los Angeles Kings for forwards Alex Iafallo, Rasmus Kupari and Gabriel Vilardi plus a 2024 second-round pick.
Dubois also agreed to an eight-year, US$68-million contract through the 2030-31 season.
Prior to that blockbuster, the Montreal Canadiens acquired centre Alex Newhook from the Colorado Avalanche for the 31st and 37th selections in the draft along with defenceman Gianni Fairbrother.
The New Jersey Devils acquired veteran forward Tyler Toffoli from the Calgary Flames on Tuesday in exchange for Yegor Sharangovich and a 2023 third-round draft pick, which the Devils acquired from the Columbus Blue Jackets.
The 31-year-old Toffoli is coming off a career season with the Flames, scoring 34 goals and adding 39 assists. He has one year left on his four-year, $17 million contract.
Sharangovich, a 25-year-old from Belarus, scored 13 goals and added 17 assists this season with the Devils.
Bedard, meanwhile, leads a draft class heavy on forward talent, including No. 2-ranked North American skater Adam Fantilli and Leo Carlsson, who tops the European list.
"Something you've tried to look forward to your entire life, and try to get to this point," said Fantilli, a product of Nobleton, Ont. "We're all really excited … can't play another game now, you can't score another goal now.
"Sit back, try and soak it in, and enjoy it."
One of the draft's biggest questions will be where does Matvei Michkov land?
The Russian forward, who might have the second-highest ceiling after Bedard, is signed in the KHL and slated to spend at least a few more seasons at home before coming to North America.
"Everyone's kind of in the same boat — media, players, teams, I imagine," said Zach Benson, the No. 6 North American skater said of Michkov being a wild card. "You're not sure where he's gonna go, but watching videos on him, he's an elite player.
"Wherever he goes, that team's getting a good one."
The moment, however, will belong to Bedard.
"You always dream," he said. "Loved playing the game. I woke up every day and wanted to be on the ice. That was my mindset. I never thought too much about the future in any way. Everyone's dream is to play in the NHL. It's still my dream.
"I hope to achieve that one day."
He's set to take a big step in that direction Wednesday.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 27, 2023.
Follow @JClipperton_CP on Twitter.