The Connor Bedard show has rolled into B.C., and good luck getting a ticket if you don’t have one.
The North Vancouver product is projected to be the consensus top pick in next year’s NHL draft, and his Regina Pats are touring the province on a five-game road swing.
Under normal circumstances, this would have been Bedard’s second B.C. tour. But, thanks to COVID-19 and travel restrictions the WHL instituted during the pandemic, it’s actually his first.
And it’s most likely his last, because the 17-year-old will be taking his talents to the NHL next fall. As such, tickets to watch the phenom during his B.C. road trip are tough to find.
“This is the first time in the 30-plus years I’ve been in this business where a player has created this much interest,” said Kelowna Rockets president and general manager Bruce Hamilton, whose team will host Regina on Tuesday.
Currently, the third-year forward is leading the league in scoring, having tallied 19 goals and 48 points in 22 games — a pace that equates to 58 goals and 148 points over the 68-game regular season.
Asked about his team’s star player, Regina coach and general manager John Paddock said “you are astounded or surprised, but then you’re not because maybe you see in practice sometimes. You see different things happening all the time.
“Anything he does with the puck, I’m sorta surprised but then I’m not.”
The Rockets are projecting a complete sellout — a standing-room-only crowd of around 6,400 — numbers usually only seen during the team’s championship runs.
The Vancouver Giants are hosting Regina on Friday night at the Langley Events Centre, where a max crowd of just over 5,000 is expected. That game has been sold out for weeks. It will also be Bedard’s 100th WHL game.
And in Victoria, the Royals host the Pats on Saturday night, where a sellout of more than 7,000 at Save-On-Foods Memorial Centre is expected.
The Pats will close out their swing next Wednesday in Kamloops, where it’s close to being standing-room only, then Friday in Prince George.
“(The sellouts) are all on him,” Hamilton said of Bedard, the WHL’s 2020-21 rookie of the year. “He’s had a full career so far, and he’s just starting.
“Every challenge he’s met, he’s conquered it. Even going back to the world juniors last year, he’s done a lot of stuff that a lot of young guys dream of.”
Technically, Friday’s game in the Lower Mainland won’t be his last stop in Vancouver. On Jan. 25, the Giants will host the CHL’s Top Prospects Game in Langley, and Bedard will be front and centre.
“I feel I’m getting better overall,” Bedard said before Friday’s game against Vancouver. “
Regarding Bedard’s immediate future, time will tell if he finishes his season with Regina or if he gets traded to a title contender.
From time to time, star players in the WHL who are about to make the jump to the pro ranks are traded at or around the league’s early January trade deadline.
In 2015 for example, the Rockets acquired Leon Draisaitl and Josh Morrisey, both from the Prince Albert Raiders, with those trades propelling Kelowna to a league championship and a second-place finish in that year’s Memorial Cup.
However, the trades came with big price tags, with Kelowna having to give up draft picks and players. Four years later, thanks to those draft picks, Prince Albert marched to a league title and Memorial Cup appearance.
The question for teams wanting to acquire Bedard is are they willing to pay what would be a steep price? And that’s assuming Regina wants to trade him.
Hamilton says he’d be surprised if the Pats traded Bedard, noting giving away a boatload of draft picks would sting for quite some time.
Added Paddock: “I have no response to that. There’s only been one place (where trade rumours) have come out of all year. It’s out in B.C. There’s nothing to do with that.”
Friday’s game time against Vancouver in Langley is 7:30 p.m., with Saturday’s game in Victoria at 6:05 p.m.
Lastly, Hamilton said this: “The fans in Saskatchewan are the lucky ones because they get to see him regularly. We’re just lucky getting a chance to have him in B.C.”