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The 2021 IIHF U18 World Championship is now in the rear-view mirror with a Gold Medal victory for the Canadian side, its first since 2013 at this tournament. There were some outstanding performances on the team and three Canadians were named to the tournament All Star team in goalie Benjamin Gaudreau, defenseman Brandt Clarke, and a 15-year-old phenom, Connor Bedard. Already creating buzz in the WHL as its first exceptional status player, Bedard burst onto Canadian hockey headlines and fans consciousness in a big way in the tournament. Vince Gibbons, our Senior Analyst/Scout in the WHL writes about an exciting talent you will be hearing much more about.
Unable to participate in the U18 tournament due to a last minute Covid test, Chaz Lucius was a tough loss for the US squad. The Americans typically do well in the tournament, and were blessed with chemistry after playing together, a luxury many other countries did not, but did not medal for the first time in 17 years, after a record 16 in a row. Lucius was the biggest riser on the McKeen’s draft board. Our Director of Scouting Ryan Wagman was extremely impressed with an admittedly small number of games this season, but the talent is undeniable. Ryan explains further why McKeen’s had him ranked at #6 prior to the U18’s.
We are just releasing our cover for the 2021 NHL Draft Guide this week with a strong University of Michigan presence. The magazine releases mid-June and if you subscribe now for three months ($5.50 CDN a month, approximately $4.25 USD) your subscription will include a download of the magazine, plus access to all the other great content on the site. You can learn more here.
The McKeen’s team are scouting and writing about prospects all season long and provide in-depth reports on our website: www.mckeenshockey.com
Prospects in the News: Connor Bedard explodes onto the world stage at U18 Championship
By Vince Gibbons
2020-21 Stats: Regina Pats, WHL, 15GP-12G-16A-28PTS
2020-21 Stats: Canada U18, WJC-18, 7GP-7G-7A-14PTS
Connor Bedard was already a player of great promise before ever setting foot on WHL ice but his impact this season has been astounding even for someone with his pedigree. Granted exceptional status just over a year ago he looked primed to be a top six player upon his arrival in Regina. There were big expectations for the 5’9, 165 pound, right shot center who is the first WHL player in history to be granted “exceptional” status. What he has done in his short time in the WHL has been more impressive than what anyone could have expected.
In Bedard’s first 15 games he is averaging 1.86 points per game, .80 goals per game and 1.06 assist per game. You might think he is cherry picking power play points or taking soft match ups, but his even strength numbers show he is a significant contributor five on five. His nine goals and nine assists at even strength put him at 1.2 even strength points per game. His dominant WHL season was cut short so he could represent his country as a rare double underage player at the U-18 tournament where he still managed to stand out as a dominant player. At a tournament dominated by current draft eligible players Bedard was tied for second in points, his point per game actually went up to two points per game compared to the WHL. In seven games he had seven goals and seven assists and was a big part of Canada’s gold medal run. In a tournament for the best ’03 players in the world Bedard outproduced every single ’03 at the tournament and did it as an ’05.
Bedard’s game has a few defining characteristics that make him stand out. The first is his mind. He is able to read and process the game with incredible efficiency and speed. Offensively he sees the ice as well as anyone, he gets to open ice, reads the defensive rotation, knows where lanes are for passing or driving the net and constantly is funneling the puck towards the net. Despite his undersized frame (at this point) he is willing to drive the net with pace and play in the middle of the ice. He knows where everyone is on the ice, teammates and opponents. His vision while driving the net in traffic is something you rarely see, he is able to see and execute many difficult passing plays, cross ice, back door, from the half wall, behind the net. He is dangerous from anywhere on the ice.
The second part of his game that stands out is his puck control and passing skill. He can make incredible saucer passes, pass through sticks, around defenders, through legs and does so consistently. His ability to cradle a pass without breaking stride, handle the puck in traffic, and his one-on-one attacking skills make him nearly impossible to defend. He has an incredibility ability to feel pressure, move the puck away from it without having to throw the puck away. The best players in the league are able to hold the puck that extra second in a dangerous area because they know they can make a play, and he certainly can do that, even now.
His release is very quick and provides him with the perfect complement to his elite passing game, a dangerous shot. He is dangerous on his forehand and backhand with great accuracy from distance. As his strength and size catch up to his opponent’s, expect improvements in velocity on his shot. His willingness to get to dangerous areas and shoot the puck contribute greatly to his 17% shooting percentage, but he has an elite shot rate already averaging 4.66 shots per game.
In all of that offensive talent there is still pretty responsible 200-foot player who back checks well, creates back pressure and supports his defense in their own zone. He plays with pace although his skating isn’t exactly the strength of his overall game. He has good agility and edges that are on display in his net drives and one-on-one play, but his top speed would be an area of his game that could still improve.
The easy list of comparables is previous CHL players that were granted exceptional status over the past 20 seasons. There are so few players to have ever produced at this level, at his age that expectations are growing daily. While I don’t think his speed will ever challenge McDavid’s, he certainly could have a more impactful career than the fellow exceptional status center John Tavares (a near point per game producer approaching 900 career NHL games). It is still very early in Bedard’s development, but it has made the WHL and the Regina Pats, must stream hockey during the Pandemic shortened Junior season of 2020-2021.
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2021 NHL Draft Prospect: Lucius Impressive in Shortened Season – Ranked #6 on McKeen’s
By Ryan Wagman
Chaz Lucius, Age 18, H/W: 6-0/175
2020-21 Stats: USNTDP Juniors, USHL, 12GP-13G-5A-18PTS
2020-21 Stats: U.S. National U18 Team, 13GP-13G-7A-20PTS
I wish I could say more about Chaz Lucius, but the unfortunate truth is that he didn’t play that much this year, being limited to 12 USHL league games with the USNTDP and missing much of the program’s non-USHL schedule as well.
But we still slotted him as our 6th best prospect in our most recent draft rankings because of what he showed in his limited time on ice this year, with some help from previous season viewings. So, what did Lucius do in 12 games? Well, he scored 13 goals. He only added five assists to that total, but when you score more than one goal per game, the helpers aren’t quite as interesting. Then again, the two assists he contributed to the USNTDP’s 6-1 victory in the BioSteel All-American game mere weeks before his season, which had already started late, was put to an early end.
Of course, our lofty draft ranking of Lucius was not due solely to his extravagant point per game rate, but rather how he got there. It isn’t his skating, which is fine, if unspectacular. I am willing to grant that his wheels may be a bit above average, although is mobility could have been hampered by the leg injury that delayed his start to the season. He shines with his puck play though. He plays a confident style of game, willing to attempt high-skill plays, like drags and between the legs moves, to shake clear or push the puck to a better positioned teammate. He is willing to skate the puck into a crowd of hostile opponents, and he is capable of getting through that gauntlet with the puck still intact.
When he doesn’t have the puck, he is finding ways of getting open in dangerous areas of the offensive zone, popping up when the puck is loose and doing better than most at forcing the opposing goaltender to scramble to try to make the save. If the other team has the puck, Lucius is doing everything within the confines of the rule book to hamper their attempts at moving towards the USNTDP net.
Committed to joining the University of Minnesota next year, Lucius does not necessarily have the upside of a typical draft class’ top ten pick, if only because his play is based more on making the right play, in the right place, at the right time than it is on embarrassing the opposition. But even without pushing us to the collective edges of our seats, he helps his teams win. Had a COVID test not prevented him at the last minute from joining his teammates at the U18 tournament, the US may not have won the Gold, but they certainly would have looked a lot better, and a Semifinal placement would not have been out of the question.
I expect Lucius to spend two years on campus before turning pro. One year to prove he can stay healthy and produce at a higher level. And one year to play with younger brother Cruz, who is following in big brother’s footsteps with the USNTDP and will be one of their better players next year.
PAST NBC EDGE MCKEEN’S 2021 NHL DRAFT PROSPECT REPORTS – In this weekly column we cover an 2021 NHL Draft prospect. Check out what we have written to date here listed by our most recent ranking.
#1 - Matthew Beniers C, University of Michigan, NCAA, C, 6’1” 175 lbs
#2 – Owen Power, D, University of Michigan, NCAA, C, 6’6” 215 lbs
#3 – Luke Hughes, D, USNTDP U18, 6’2” 175 lbs
#4 - Jesper Wallstedt G, Lulea, Sweden, G, 6’3” 200lbs
#5 – Simon Edvinsson, D, Vasteras, Allvenskan, 6’5”, 200lbs
#6 - Chaz Lucius, C, USNTDP U18, 6’ 0’ 175lbs
#7 – Dylan Guenther, RW, Edmonton, WHL, 6’0” 170lbs
#8 - Brandt Clarke, D, Nove Zamky, Slovakia, D, 6’1” 180lbs
#9 – Fabian Lysell, RW, Luleå HF, Sweden, 5’ 10” 175 lbs
#10 – William Eklund, LW-C, Djurgårdens IF,SHL, Sweden, 5’10, 175lbs
#11 - Kent Johnston, C, University of Michigan, NCAA, C, 6’1” 170lbs
#12 – Aatu Raty, D, Kärpät, Liiga, Finland, 6’2” 185lbs
#32- Brennan Othmann, LW, EHC Olten, SL 34GP-7G-9A-16PTS
#37 – Carson Lambos, D, JYP, Finland, 6’0, 200lbs