(Buffalo) Wish Connor Bedard was able to keep a cool head, because the praise for him is heavy with meaning.

The best hopes of the 2023 Draft met the media on Friday, at a press briefing, at the National League evaluation camp. Adam Fantilli, widely regarded as the second talent of the year, set the stage from the start, calling Bedard a “phenomenal player”.

Then Dan Marr, vice-president of the NHL Central Scouting, added to it.

“Recruiting-wise, he’s in the same league as Connor McDavid,” Marr said. The speed of the game, the speed, the sense of hockey so fast to read the plays… His speed is incredible. McDavid started this trend and Bedard will continue it. »

Bedard, however, is used to such praise. In March 2020, at age 14, he learned that his request for exceptional status had been accepted by the Canadian Hockey League.

However, this status seems less exceptional in recent years. The three players to get it before Bedard: Shane Wright, Veleno and Sean Day.

It is still far too early to judge the career of Wright, drafted last summer. But his first post-draft season was not exactly a success, as he was tossed between the National League, the American League and the OHL, with a parenthesis at the world juniors.

Veleno had 20 points in 81 games in his first full NHL season at age 23. And Day, 25, is still an American League player.

Before them, however, McDavid, Aaron Ekblad and John Tavares had success and were drafted 1st overall in the NHL.

Brisson hadn’t made any moves with Sidney Crosby at the time, even though he had the talent to get an exemption. “He wanted to keep the option of going to play in the NCAA,” says the Quebec agent.

Brisson, however, did it for Jack Hughes, who was ultimately drafted 1st overall in 2019 through the American system. “When we received the letter that the Canadian League was looking into his case, he weighed 145 lbs. It wouldn’t have made sense. We knew he had the sense of hockey, the level of competition, but the physical and mental maturity was not there. In the end, whatever he did, it was the right decision! »

Another agent, who spoke anonymously, issued a warning. “It must remain exceptional. And if you do, you have to have full confidence that the place where the 15-year-old is going to play will be good culturally. Do you trust the coaches, the players, the 20 year veterans of the team? Not all junior organizations are trustworthy. »

Connor Bedard clearly enjoyed his experience, which finally began in the midst of a pandemic, in the winter of 2021.

The numbers speak for themselves. At 15, he had 28 points in 15 games during the truncated season. He followed that up with 100 points in 62 games as a 16-year-old, and 143 (!) points in 57 (!!) games this season.

If there’s one player who can break the recent trend of so-called exceptional players, it’s Bedard. The Blackhawks, who hold the 1st pick, would certainly like that to be the case.

Bedard is so dominant that one comes to wonder if Fantilli is not forgotten in this whirlwind. The charismatic Fantilli also spent part of his press briefing answering questions about Bedard.

“In recent years, I have played at Kimball Union Academy (an American prep school), in Chicago (in USHL) and at the University of Michigan. Instead of going under the OHL reflectors, I may have gone a bit under the radar, he admits. But Connor deserves all the attention he deserves. Expectations are high, but he can exceed them because he is exceptional. »

Dan Marr believes that the team that drafts Fantilli will be delighted.

“It’s very hard to be the youngest player in the team and the best, but they have been everywhere. Look at Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. It’s Connor Bedard and Adam Fantilli. You will win with both and you can’t go wrong. Both will be phenomenal. Adam had an incredible season. These two will define their franchise. »

Whether that franchise will be the No. 2 Ducks or the No. 3 Blue Jackets remains to be seen.

Of the 106 players present, only one was born in Russia: Aydar Suniev, a striker who has played in Canada for several years. Last year, four Russian players came to Buffalo, but none played in a Russian or Belarusian league. Were the Russians invited to the evaluation camp? “We don’t control the geopolitical situation,” Dan Marr said. Travel is difficult. So we left the decision to the discretion of the players. We had targeted nine. We told them: if you are available and in the United States, you are invited to the camp. »

In this regard, Kent Hughes had suggested on Thursday that the assessment of Matvei Michkov, perceived as one of the best attackers of this vintage, was done differently since no CH scout could see him in person or interview this season. The Recruiting Center does not have this problem. “We have a Russian scout who works for us, who attends the games, so we have in-person reports. The teams are in the same situation. Most have a recruiter on site. And the Russian federation cooperated and gave access to the players that the teams wanted to talk to without causing any problems,” Marr said.