Keith Hershmiller

Neugsie’s Warrior Mailbox: Bedard vs. Yager

 

REGINA, Apr. 13, 2021 – The Moose Jaw Warriors were past the halfway point of the 2021 Subway WHL Hub after an epic come-from-behind 4-3 shootout win over the Regina Pats Monday, and at the time of writing are exactly where their brass was hoping to be: around .500 in the standings, with some very promising development out of some very, very young players.

I reached out to the fine folks of the internet seeking questions for a mailbag, regarding the Warriors, the WHL in general, and even the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League, which I cover closely as well.

So here goes nothin’!

Question: (The Warriors are) a young team, but I’ve been impressed with the speed and grit I’m seeing so far. Is this due to the players on the roster or the result of a new coach?

The Moose Jaw Warriors celebrate Eric Alarie’s goal vs. the Regina Pats at the Subway WHL Hub (Keith Hershmiller)

Yeah, I have been impressed too, especially given the depth-test the forwards got with the early loss of Ryder Korczak to a reported ‘upper-body injury’, and who provided an incredible 17.2% of the whole team’s offence by himself a year ago! In terms of full-season production, he ended the year with 67 points, while the closest returnee Eric Alarie had 21! So, to say guys like Alarie, Cade Hayes, and Tate Popple took huge steps forward would be an understatement.

I am of the opinion that players deserve by far the majority of the credit or blame whenever it comes to grit or determination, and while GM Alan Millar and his crew picked a team of players that can clearly skate, if the players themselves don’t have the hockey sense or experience, then they are just speed skaters in hockey equipment.

Now you make a good point: I love the direction Mark O’Leary is taking this team on his maiden voyage in charge. He is keeping things even keel when it’s going well AND when it’s not, and he keeps their simple style of play simple (which I outline in my article here). He knows he is relying on a super young core to really carry the team, and to over-burden them with elaborate systems would not lead to good development.

So, to answer your question simply: I’ll give the players 80%, and O’Leary and staff 20% of the credit.

Question: (Regina star Connor) Bedard is a great player, but I don’t get how teams give a guy like this so much time and space.  Is he that hard to finish a check on? 

Connor Bedard points skyward to honour his grandfather Garth. April 9, 2021 (Keith Hershmiller/WHL)

Great question. I’m going to do that thing where hockey writers really should say ‘I’ll ask a player who plays against him, and find out’ (which I’ll do, I promise), but then give my opinion anyway.

Don’t you wonder why more people didn’t just flatten Wayne Gretzky, or do the same to Connor McDavid? Every coach pre-game when their team faces a player like that says “we’re going to try to take away his time and space and make the game uncomfortable for him.” Of course, you are, you’d be crazy not to!

So what’s the problem? Minds like Gretzky, McDavid, and Bedard (yes, I’m putting his mind in that group) see things differently than 99.9999% of hockey players. They see the play two or three moves ahead, which is why Bedard has had so many breakaways, odd-man rushes, and space on the power play: he’s where he needs to be before anyone else understands why he’s in that spot. Joe Shmoe gets on the ice and says “I’m going to try to really hit Bedard this shift!”, but while our pal Shmoe has good intentions to do what you’re asking, Bedard is entirely somewhere else.

Bedard is going to get all sorts of extra jabs and whacks behind the play, like McDavid and others like him, do, and another true measure of greatness, which we’ll find out about Connor, is whether he can stay focussed during all that. My hunch so far is that he can.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I’ve seen junior players with better speed, and with better hands, and with a better shot than Bedard (not too many have a better shot, though), but I have not seen a mind like his.

Question: How do you compare Brayden Yager to Connor Bedard?

Moose Jaw’s Brayden Yager lines up for a face-off against the Saskatoon Blades at the Subway WHL Hub (Keith Hershmiller)

Other than the fact Moose Jaw’s Brayden Yager and Regina’s Connor Bedard are both forwards with great offensive instincts, born in 2005, and play in south Saskatchewan markets, the differences are big.

Much has been made (by myself included) about Bedard’s style: attacking instincts, incredible vision, an understanding of where to be on the ice steps ahead, confidence, and maturity, to go with a wicked shot, and by comparison, no other rookie of any age in Major Junior is at his level.

Now that said, Yager has fit in very well and been an important piece in the Moose Jaw puzzle this year and will continue to grow and blossom into an elite WHL player in his own right. Moose Jaw’s man is more of a power forward, heavy on the puck, and I would argue is a better skater than Bedard. Yager reminds many, myself included, of Colorado’s Nathan MacKinnon, and the view of the Saskatoon-born 16-year-old blowing down the wing has to make any junior defender quiver already…just think what he’s going to be like in a year or two?

If Yager is a piece of the Warriors’ puzzle – which is no slight at all for any underager, to be an important Top 6 in the WHL – then Bedard IS the Pats’ puzzle; and that’s the biggest difference.

Question: Who are the best Moose Jaw alumni when considering their WHL and NHL careers? Brayden Point or Theo Fleury?

It’s an interesting question, though comparing eras is not my favourite thing.

Theo won the Stanley Cup, the Canada Cup, and the Olympics after about a million points for Moose Jaw…so I’ll stick with Theo, as much as I love Point.

 

 

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