What is it, really, about Connor Bedard’s shot — a shot that, though he’s just 18 years old, has for years been talked about as if he has patented it — that makes it so dangerous and unique?
What’s the nerdy science of it, from his feet up to his knees, hips, hands and head? How does he prep, shape and let it go? What does it look like to goalies, and to professional shooting coaches, those who’ve taught him — or, more accurately, watched him after he taught himself — and had to stop him? The Athletic spoke with five NHL shooting and skills coaches, his teammates, past opponents and him to try to take apart, piece by piece, “The Bedard.”
Their intel and stories help frame the NHL’s brightest young star’s signature skill.
If there’s one thing Tim Turk knows, it’s shooting. A self-described “shooting and scoring coach,” Turk has more than two decades of experience working with NHL stars, national federations and half a dozen NHL teams.
Turk had no idea who Bedard was when he fielded a call from agent Greg Landry of Newport Sports asking him what he was doing tomorrow.
“Tomorrow?” he said. “I’m booked up a year in advance.”
“We have these two players coming in from out west and we want you to see them,” Landry said.
“Listen, I’m booked up,” Turk said again.
“You have to see them,” Landry insisted.
After moving around his schedule, Turk found himself at Gary Roberts’ personal rink in Uxbridge, Ontario.
“Hey guys, I’m Tim Turk,” he said as he stepped into the small locker room.
“My name’s Nate,” said the redhead, extending a hand.
“My name’s Connor,” said the other, standing shorter and extending his.
“All right, well we’re just going to go out and I’m going to do an evaluation on you and do some shooting and have some fun, and I’ll make suggestions but I’m not here to change anything,” Turk said, giving the two boys his usual spiel and thinking nothing of it.
That evaluation is what he calls an “NHL protocol observation assessment,” which runs new clients through specific drills that allow him to visualize their shooting actions from a technical standpoint (he calls each player’s shot “like a fingerprint”).
That starts with Turk throwing some pucks down in the slot and simply asking them to shoot them stationary so he can watch their body formation, hip and shoulder positions, spine angles and puck preparation and positioning, paying particular attention to where the puck starts in their stance versus where it finishes.
On that day, Nate (Danielson, the Red Wings’ 2023 No. 9 pick) went first, and Turk could tell he was a talented and hard-working player with a good shot and real promise.
Then, on Connor’s turn, Turk placed him in a position and watched how he got the puck ready to shoot. Only Connor didn’t stickhandle and prepare for the shot, he just took the puck and shot it right away.
After watching him run through the same number of shots as Nate did, Turk spoke for the first time.
“Timeout one second, just give me a second here, I’m just trying to see what you’re doing so I’m going to have you take an extra few shots so that I can analyze where the puck’s starting and where it’s finishing,” he said.
Another round later, he knew that this Connor kid, whose last name he still didn’t know and who was then 16, was very different from even his high-end peers simply by his proficiency in shooting from a “frontal position.”
While almost all players point their toes at the net, set the puck at a right angle, load their shot and “drag it in and then snap it off,” Turk says, on a line of 40 to 50 degrees behind their body or at least level with their heels, Bedard brought the puck in “completely lateral.”
Instead of drawing the puck in at a 45-degree angle, he drew it at 180 degrees “right across to the plane of his spine.” Sometimes it even came in at a negative angle. It also happened in a smaller space than it does for other shooters. That lateral inward pull was “condensed — it’s compacted.”
Turk says that Vladimir Tarasenko, whom Turk calls one of the NHL’s quickest shooters, takes 18 inches to pull the puck in. Bedard did it all in 12 square inches — a one-foot box.
“I was like holy f—,” he said, spelling out the whole profanity, “because the only other person that I know who does it quite like that is No. 34 in Toronto (Auston Matthews), and he still doesn’t bring it in as lateral as Bedzy does.”
After the stationary shooting, they got into some motion drills.
Every time Turk introduced a new formation and shot type for Bedard, his application was “simplistic, and he made it look easy.”
When it was over, both kids said, “This was fun, thanks coach Turky,” and Turk got in his car and drove home.
The next day, he got another call from Landry asking him what he was doing Thursday because the two boys had asked if they could have him back for another session.
“Well who the f— are these guys?” Turk finally asked him.
“Turky, it’s Connor Bedard,” Landry said.
“Who’s Connor Bedard?” Turk asked.
After the second session that same week, Turk didn’t work with Bedard again until a stick manufacturer tried to pitch Bedard, who asked if Turk could be there when he test-drove the sticks.
By then, Turk knew the Bedard name and came away from another session with another takeaway, picking up on Bedard’s eye contact and ability to change his mind mid-shot.
“What makes him unique is that he can be selective with it,” Turk said.
When he looks back on that first blind introduction, Turk laughs.
“You know, most, when you’re in a non-pressure, non-stressful situation, you’ll play around with the puck a lot and then you’ll take your shot because I’m telling them to take their time,” he said. “To me, when he takes a shot, it looks like he just bends down, picks it up with his hand and places it where he wants to.
“He believes that ‘Hey, f— it, the puck is only two and a half inches wide, I can put it wherever I want.’”
Today, Turk would take Bedard’s shot against anyone’s.
“On a shot release basis only, if I had to bet on who could get the puck off the quickest, with the most deception, with optimal speed, power and accuracy based on a starting point to a finishing point, I’m picking Connor Bedard over Auston Matthews,” Turk said. “And I’m not taking anything away from Auston. It’s just a little bit different because one’s a righty, one’s a lefty and one’s got a little bit of a higher-angle pull-in change.”
If there’s one thing Nick Quinn wants people to know about “The Bedard,” it’s that it isn’t just some natural gift.
“I can tell you firsthand it didn’t happen by accident. Connor’s worked on this since he was little,” said Quinn, an NHL skills coach who has worked with Bedard each summer for several years.
If there’s another, it’s how hard Bedard’s shot is to defend because he doesn’t show you he’s preparing for it.
“As replicated in so many other areas of Connor’s game, it’s the deception and elite multi-tasking that catches opponents off guard,” Quinn said. “Connor’s ability to create deception and change the shot angle at top speed is like very few I’ve ever seen. The multi-tasking involved with attempting these shots at top speed is far beyond most player’s capabilities.”
Another shooting coach, who requested anonymity for this story because he works for another NHL club, pointed to Bedard’s hands and legs.
“What’s really interesting is how high and left he can get his top hand,” the coach said. “So many players pull the puck in but can’t get the puck to release from under their body. His footwork is so underrated in that aspect. If you watch his front leg, at times it’s literally in the air at release — most have their back leg in the air at release. When he transfers his weight, he actually clears space for his hands to get tighter because he’s not afraid to actually lunge into the shot.”
A fourth shooting coach, who hasn’t worked with Bedard and also requested anonymity because he works for another NHL club, expressed a little more hesitancy.
“I’m in the minority I’m sure, but I am very curious to see how well his trademark shooting style works at this level,” the coach said. “He really likes to pull pucks right into his feet. I really like his mechanics with his hands off his body and whippy stick — but I feel this habit makes it easier for elite level ‘D’ to get stick on puck or in the lanes to block shots. Finding space and time to let that shot go and get clean looks, I think, will be an adjustment.”
For goalies, it’s the angle change that gets them.
Moose Jaw Warriors goalie Jackson Unger, whom Bedard scored on last year, said the toe-drag release, in particular, is a challenge.
“He changes the angle so quickly that, as a goalie, you have to adjust to it, but when he does it so fast, it’s easier said than done,” Unger said. “It’s a lot of different angles he can give you.”
Sabres first-round pick Zach Benson, who has played on teams with and against Bedard and skates with him in the summers, says it’s Bedard’s ability to set up the shot with his agility pre-shot that stands out to him.
“He can move left to right like no one I’ve seen before,” Benson said.
“It’s just trying to get out, face him, and hope it hits ya,” said Scott Ratzlaff, Seattle Thunderbirds goalie and Buffalo Sabres prospect, with a smile. “He can shoot from anywhere and he’s lethal from anywhere. You’ve just always got to be ready just in case he shoots it. And then he’s got a really good toe drag release, so it’s watching for that and making sure you’re lined up.”
A number of Chicago Blackhawks over the last few decades liked to put in extra time shooting. Patrick Kane would stay out with the young guys, including Alex DeBrincat, well after practice to play shooting games. But even they had a limit.
Bedard doesn’t have much of a limit. It’s common for him to be on the ice an hour after practice taking shots from all over the ice. He even got a few other rookies, especially defenseman Kevin Korchinski, to join him on a regular basis. As the media waits for Bedard at his dressing room stall for interviews, he shoots and shoots and shoots.
Blackhawks coach Luke Richardson has been around long enough to see that in a few other special players.
“I know Jaromir Jagr did this for a long time,” Richardson said. “Even at the end of his career — and he skated around and he had the weights around the bottom of his ankles, practiced full practices like that. It’s happened. That’s their life. They love it so much and they have to be out there. That’s where they feel comfortable and don’t get tired. Hopefully, they go home and have a nap in the afternoon and not watch ‘Young and the Restless.’ Take it easy and get ready for the next day. It does add up when you put the hours of the week in.”
Bedard has downplayed his lengthy post-practice sessions. To him, it’s not like he has weights on his ankles. He’s just shooting, nothing too strenuous.
For someone who shoots as much as Bedard does, you’d think he would gladly accept being called a shooter. He doesn’t.
“I say it a lot: I don’t feel like I’m a shooter,” he said. “I’m just trying to make the right play. If the shot’s there, I’ll take it. Obviously, the goalies are good, you got to hit your spot.”
Blackhawks goalie Arvid Söderblom would certainly call Bedard a shooter. Söderblom and Petr Mrazek have faced more shots from Bedard than any NHL goalies this season. The challenge for them is that Bedard doesn’t just shoot one way. He’s unpredictable.
“When you have that type of shot, quick release, moves his body and shifts angles on the puck, it makes it harder on the goalies,” Söderblom said. “You just saw the two goals (on Sunday against the Florida Panthers), both were quick releases. He finds that open net. He’s a pure goal scorer. It’s fun to have on the team and face him every day and see him take steps, too.”
While goalies are trying to figure out Bedard, he’s been putting in the time to do the same with them. For one, he learned to utilize his teammates more. He accumulated plenty of shots on net early in the season, but they were often from distance and more individualistic chances. Then, he scored his first NHL goal on a wraparound and his next three goals off passes from teammates.
“Look, I’m sure he’ll figure out the one-on-one and how to score that way or create chances that way,” Blackhawks general manager Kyle Davidson said. “There is also an element of working off your teammates. You are in the NHL, so everyone is a pretty good player and you’re able to create using more than just yourself. I think he’s figured that out.”
Bedard found more success on the Blackhawks’ last road trip. He left Chicago with five goals in 11 games and returned from Florida with nine goals in 13 games, scoring twice against the Tampa Bay Lightning and again against the Panthers.
Connor. Bedard. Unreal. pic.twitter.com/YCNOdXfBte
— Chicago Blackhawks (@NHLBlackhawks) November 12, 2023
Bedard wasn’t so reliant on teammates on those goals, either. They were more about the work he’s putting in on the other side of the puck.
“Even in practice, we’ve talked to him about maybe tracking harder and attacking pucks on the forecheck and showing him a couple clips,” Richardson said. “Ten, 12 games in, he’s really figuring things out and realizes — why sit back and let things come to him? Go get it.”
None of this is surprising to anyone involved. Bedard doesn’t show it if he impresses himself. And as grateful as the Blackhawks are to have drafted Bedard, this is what they expected. This is why teams lined up to take losses last season.
“It’s not the NHL that he was playing in the last few years,” Davidson said, “but the level of performance and how he could control a game and dominate a game in junior — it indicated he was going to be able to do that at some point in the NHL. You just never how quickly.
“It’s a big adjustment, especially when you’re playing against men and being focused on by the other team every single night. I’m excited for him, but I don’t necessarily feel like it’s a huge surprise how quickly he’s started to really find his groove at the NHL level. But it’s exciting to watch.”
(Top photo: Ethan Miller / Getty Images)