Bedard is expected to start Combine interviews for the 2023 NHL Draft

BUFFALO — Connor Bedard, the projected No. 1 pick in the 2023 Upper Deck NHL Draft, is expected to begin interviews at the NHL Scouting Combine on Wednesday.

Bedard, No. 1 on NHL Central Scouting’s final ranking of North American skaters presented by BioSteel, and fellow NHL Draft-eligible forward prospects Adam Fantilli, William Smith and Leo Carlsson are each attending Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final between the Florida Panthers and Vegas Golden Knights on monday.

Bedard (5-foot-10, 185 pounds) of Regina in the Western Hockey League won the Canadian Hockey League Top Prospect, Top Scorer, and David Branch Player of the Year awards after leading the WHL in goals (71) and points (143) ) in 57 regular-season games. The 17-year-old right-shot center hasn’t concerned himself with who could go No. 1 in the draft.

“It’d be awesome if I went No. 1, but I think whether you get drafted first or whatever round, it’s a dream come true, and if I get that honor, it’d be unreal,” Bedard said. “I’d be super grateful to the people who have helped me with that, but for me, it’s just kind of focusing on what I can do now to improve myself as a player.”

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Fantilli, a center at the University of Michigan is No. 2 on Central Scouting’s final ranking of North American skaters, and center William Smith of USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program Under-18 team is No. 3. Carlsson, a center for Orebro in the Swedish Hockey League, is No. 1 on Central Scouting’s final ranking of International skaters.

The Chicago Blackhawks have the No. 1 pick in the 2023 draft. The Anaheim Ducks have the No. 2 picks and the Columbus Blue Jackets own the No. 3 selections.

Bedard hasn’t played competitive hockey since April 10, when Regina lost 4-1 to Saskatoon in Game 7 of the opening round of the WHL playoffs. He had 20 points (10 goals, 10 assists) in the seven-game series to become the first WHL player since 2012 to score at least 10 goals in a single playoff series.

Fantilli’s fantastic finish

Fantilli, the projected No. 2 pick, should be in good spirits upon his arrival at the combine, though he said Monday he doesn’t think he’ll do any testing.

“I’m not particularly sure,” he said while in Las Vegas. “I’ll find out when I get there but I haven’t been in the gym too much because I was overseas, so we’ll see.”

The 18-year-old center (6-2, 195) not only was the first Canada-born player to win a gold medal at the 2023 IIHF World Junior Championship and 2023 IIHF World Championship in the same season, he’s the first player to win both tournaments and the Hobey Baker Award as the top player in NCAA men’s hockey in the same year.

Fantilli had three points (one goal, three assists) in 10 games while averaging 12:25 of ice time in a top-six role at the World Championship in Finland. He’ll never forget his goal to give Canada a 3-2 lead at 8:56 of the third period off a pass from linemate Milan Lucic in a 4-2 win against Latvia in the semifinal round May 27.

“I grew up watching [Lucic] my entire life and he gave me that pass and it ended up going in, but it was a pretty surreal feeling,” Fantilli said. “I learned so much at this tournament on the ice and in the locker room, how to fit in with guys that age, guys with that skill level, how they practice, their game habits. I think everything is just elevated when you get to this level. They were able to teach me a lot in that sense.”

NTDP is well represented

There are 13 players from the NTDP attending the combine, including goalies Trey Augustine (6-1, 183) and Carsen Musser (6-4, 215).

Smith (6-0, 181) is one of five from the program projected to be chosen in the first round. He led the NTDP with 2.12 points per game and ranked second in assists (76) and points (127) in 60 games this season. He was named the best forward and most valuable player at the 2023 IIHF World Under-18 Championship after leading the gold medal-winning United States with 20 points (nine goals, 11 assists) that tied Jack Hughes‘ tournament record for the United States set in 2019.

Right wing Ryan Leonard (5-11, 192) is No. 5, center Oliver Moore (5-11, 188) is No. 8, right wing Gabriel Perreault (5-11, 165) is No. 10, and center Danny Nelson (6-3, 202) is No. 22. Perreault led the team with 53 goals, 79 assists and 132 points in 63 games.

Smith, Leonard, and Perreault are each committed to Boston College next season. Moore will attend the University of Minnesota and Nelson is headed to Notre Dame.

“The thing I’m going to remember most about this group is that they really believed in each other, and played for each other,” NTDP U-18 coach Dan Muse said. “It might sound a little cliche, but it’s so important and doesn’t happen all the time. It’s pretty special to be a part of a group that’s doing that, and I think they really did.”

Back in Buffalo

Quentin Musty didn’t have to travel far to get to the combine.

Musty (6-foot-2, 200 pounds), a left wing with Sudbury of the Ontario Hockey League, is from nearby Hamburg, New York, a short drive to the event.

“I’m super excited to attend the combine … obviously living in Hamburg made it a quick trip for myself and in an arena that I grew up playing with the Buffalo Junior Sabers (2018-20),” Musty said. “I have lots of great memories in Buffalo, playing minor hockey, so it’s pretty cool that this is where the combine is held.

“I’ve been working hard this offseason trying to get myself ready for whatever opportunities come my way and I feel that my strength coach and I have done a great job preparing. I’m looking forward to the Wingate bike test the most.”

Musty, No. 14th on NHL Central Scouting’s final ranking of North American skaters, finished second on the Wolves with 78 points (26 goals, 52 assists) and had 17 power-play points (three goals, 14 assists) in 53 games. He also had four points (one goal, three assists) in the OHL playoffs. Sudbury lost a best-of-7 series to Peterborough in the opening round in four games. Editor-in-Chief Bill Price contributed to this report

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