Connor Bedard didn’t want to make it about himself after Canada defeated Czechia in overtime to capture the gold medal at the 2023 World Juniors.
We disagree. He was the best player by several standard deviations and though Canada’s depth needed to show up in order to repeat as champions, Bedard pulverized all other storylines. Journalists still need to be diligent about criticizing Hockey Canada and holding the new board of directors accountable when it comes to racism, sexual assault and other maladies. Bedard was the only on-ice story that truly mattered.
Where does Bedard’s 2023 performance rank all-time? We’ve got you covered.
T-10: John Tavares and Jordan Eberle, 2009
We’re starting this list with a dual entry, but it’s hard not to separate Tavares and Eberle in 2009. Tavares won tournament MVP honours, notching a hat-trick against the United States in a New Year’s Eve thriller that has stood the test of time. He was the most consistent player on one of the most memorable teams in Canadian history.
Eberle scored the most iconic goal in tournament history — that’s up for debate now — saving Canada from the brink of elimination with 5.4 seconds remaining against Russia in the semifinal, before notching the shootout winner. A year later, Eberle would be named MVP. He was named as the best Canadian player in World Juniors history by TSN and previously held the Canadian scoring record, before Bedard smashed the record books.
8: Patrice Bergeron, 2005
It’s sometimes difficult to compare teams across eras, but the 2005 squad is widely considered the best World Juniors team ever, in part due to the NHL lockout which allowed several players who would otherwise be in the show, to compete at the Juniors. Few stood out more than Bergeron, who had already graduated to the Boston Bruins. Bergeron scored six goals and 13 points, winning tournament MVP honours, an accomplishment that shines even brighter considering the star-studded teammates he played alongside.
7: Jaromir Jagr, 1990
Prior to Bedard going bonkers, Jagr’s 1990 was considered the gold standard of underage performances at the World Juniors. Jagr recorded five goals and 18 points, finishing second in tournament scoring. Knowing Jagr’s penchant for scoring in big games, we believe the round-robin format probably hurt his bid at winning a gold medal. No matter. Jagr would graduate to the NHL and embark upon one of the greatest careers in hockey history.
6: Mason McTavish, 2022
Recency bias aside, McTavish absolutely cooked at the 2022 World Juniors. McTavish and Bedard were the best players for Canada by some distance, and the former truly looked like a man amongst boys. McTavish finished with eight goals and 17 points, during a tournament that was largely ignored by the public due to the fallout from Hockey Canada’s concurrent sexual assault scandals.
5: Pavel Bure, 1991
Arguably the fastest man alive, Bure lit the tournament aflame in 1991 with 12 goals. It wasn’t enough to steer the Soviet Union to a gold medal — Canada and the Soviet Union finished tied atop the standings with identical records, while the Soviet Union sported a better goal differential. Because Canada won the head-to-head matchup, it was declared the champion. Bure’s three-year run at the World Juniors is one of the best performances we’ll ever see, and he quickly became an instant star with the Canucks a year later.
4: Markus Naslund, 1993
Naslund scored 13 goals and 24 points in this tournament. That alone warrants top-10 consideration. He was overshadowed by one of his own teammates and Sweden, much like Russia in previous years, sported an identical record in the round-robin format, but Canada won the gold medal after winning the head-to-head matchup. Maybe they should’ve gotten rid of the round-robin well before the mid-1990s!
3: Wayne Gretzky, 1978
Gretzky was a child prodigy, prolific in ways that the Canadian public had never witnessed before. Benefiting from the first tournament that necessitated Canada to pick its best players, rather than sending the incumbent Memorial Cup champions over, Gretzky shone brightest as a 16-year-old, with eight goals and 17 points in six games, earning Best Forward honours. It wasn’t enough to get Canada over the hump, as the team settled for a bronze medal. Even with relative disappointments, the Great One still looked downright great.
2: Peter Forsberg, 1993
Forsberg set the single-tournament scoring record of 31 points — seven goals and 24 assists. It was a prolific showing, although we have to note that Forsberg recorded a single-tournament record 10 points in a 20-1 rout of an overmatched Japan team. He dominated the rest of competition and it’s no surprise he hit the ground running with the Quebec Nordiques/Colorado Avalanche shortly thereafter.
He was named the best player in World Juniors history by TSN. But something tells us that the history books may need to be updated. Forsberg and Sweden captured the silver medal. It’s a shame we couldn’t have seen a true final between Sweden and Canada.
1: Connor Bedard, 2023
There are no superlatives left for Bedard. I’ve been the World Juniors lead writer for Yahoo Sports Canada since 2019, I’ve watched it in a professional capacity for a decade, and as a fan for two decades and change. Bedard is the best player I’ve ever seen at this competition and with nine goals and 23 points as an underager, it is the best showing by a draft prospect ever.
Bedard didn’t just dominate the competition, he did it with incredible style. Whether it was Bedard launching his one-of-one shot from the top of the circle and beyond, cutting teams apart with his fake shot-pass and inch-perfect cross-ice threads, the 17-year-old left opponents feeling helpless.
If you need an iconic moment to become an all-time great, Bedard more than delivered, putting Canada on his back, while turning the Slovakian defense into a slalom course, before tucking away the winner and busting out the Heartbreaker celly.
Bedard may cause some NHL teams to start tanking, in the hopes of getting a shot at selecting him this summer. He is the most electrifying talent to ever take the ice at this tournament, he shattered all the Canadian records and, no offense to the greats of the past, but the 2023 tournament was the Connor Bedard Show.