Monday, March 4, 2024

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.Turk’s reaction?“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…

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