This is the second in the 'Bedard-on-one' series, if you haven't checked out the first one yet on Lukas Dragicevic, none of the following will probably make any sense to you, so get check that out here first. Here are the things to keep in mind when viewing this article though:
I'm only looking for what each defenseman does to neutralize, contain or otherwise stop Connor Bedard (as much as that is possible).
With very few exceptions, I'm only looking at the defensive side of the puck for these defensemen. I'm not interested in how they're able to carry the puck against Connor Bedard, only the opposite.
We'll be talking about the style of play for each defenseman, and why that can or cannot work against professional competition, HOWEVER all defensemen and prospects change. Coaching, development and direction are vital to a prospect's development, and this effect cannot be understated.
Finally, there is some suspension of disbelief here. While many scouts and myself included believe Bedard will step right into the NHL next year and be impactful, there's a chance he won't. We're ignoring that chance, however big or small it may be in reality. In this reality, Bedard is an impact NHLer playing against junior league players.
You're going to see a lot of highlight Bedard plays. That's just him. He's special, regardless of the defenseman he's lined up against right now.
Why Tanner Molendyk next? Well I think he's the yin to Drag's yang if that makes sense. Molendyk doesn't have the offensive stats that Dragicevic does. He's left handed and he's shorter. So why do I believe Molendyk, a shorter, left-handed, less productive defenseman will be drafted before Dragicevic, possibly as early as the first round? Let's dive in.
So you can tell from the above graphs by Mitch Brown at his Patreon. That Molendyk grades high at entry prevention, defensive plays (break-ups, interceptions, dump-in recoveries, pressuring shots), as well as controlled exits/60. A typical Molendyk shift involves stopping up attackers at the blueline, stealing the puck through physicality or smart stickwork, and then immediately trying to exit the zone with the puck. That sequence is entirely different from Dragicevic. Drag normally backs up, allows entry at a higher rate, waits for a pass or for the attacker to get along the wall and then might engage. Once he gets the puck, he's often looking for the breakout pass instead of skating out himself.
Just a quick note, the game you're going to see was on January 13th, a game in which Bedard had *checks notes* 3 goals and 2 assists. Pretty...pretty good. Molendyk was on the ice for one of those 5 goals, which was on the powerplay. He finished +1 overall. In fact, after a quick glance at the Saskatoon vs. Regina game from 11/13, in which Bedard had 1 goal, 1 assist, Molendyk wasn't on the ice for either of those goals against either. It means in this relatively small sample size of two games, Bedard hasn't scored or assisted on an even strength goal with Molendyk on the ice. Is that sustainable? Hell no, but it is interesting nonetheless.
Let's start on the rush:
So at the very top of the screen, you'll see Bedard up the wing with the puck, then a defender closing on him. That's Molendyk, who is #24 in white in all these gifs. He stops up, makes a conscious effort to attempt to close on Bedard instead of allowing him time to gain speed, cut to the inside, or make a play. Molendyk has good reaction time, able to lunge forward with his pokechecks while also taking the body after. It prevents him from getting far out of position with this stop-up. Bedard makes a play around him because he's super-human, but the stop attempt at least prevented a clean pass.
Molendyk (right defense here) closes before Bedard can cross the blueline, forcing Bedard to handle into the center of the ice and towards his defense partner. Molendyk has an excellent grasp of his feet in space. What I mean by that is even when he stops up, to lunge for a pokecheck, he restarts his momentum backwards after, knowing that if that lunge doesn't work, he has to recover or he's going to get beat. After the first check, he recognizes Bedard is going to shoot, as Bedards do, and times a stickcheck perfectly. Simple, effective, aggressive defense. Compare the above gif to the following two gifs by Dragicevic:
Dragicevic on the right defense side, doesn't close on Bedard on either attempt, allows the center of the ice to be free real-estate, and then backs towards the net. It collapses the play around his goaltender, and leads to chances against that are much higher danger than a blocked shot from the top of the slot. It's a difference in philosophy: Dragicevic waits until the play collapses, hopes that the lack of overall skill in juniors will mean the play will die on its own from a poor pass or a blocked shot, whereas Molendyk knows Bedard is going to be Bedard, is aggressive in trying to stop the play before it starts.
In-zone penalty kill #1:
Molendyk recognizes that his teammate is attacking Bedard, and instead of backing up, he doubles up on Bedard, ties up his stick, and knocks the puck out of the zone. As you can probably tell already, Molendyk is very aggressive in how he attacks and tries to stop plays, sometimes to his detriment.
This one is a bit hard to follow. Molendyk starts the play at the top of the screen with a stretch pass that gets intercepted. Then he tries to step into the play when the rush comes back, allowing Bedard to slip by unfettered, eventually the puck lands to him for a good chance. Molendyk in this instance could have taken a page out of Dragicevic's book and backed up, been less aggressive, allowed his teammate who is much closer to attack the puck carrier, and kept an eye on the developing play.
Rush #4/Recovery #1:
Just an example of how Molendyk's skating helps him to recover and re-challenge once the play moves past him. He maintains his aggression and positioning on Bedard, making the block pass. Compare to Dragicevic here, who doesn't close before he attempts to block the passing lane, partially because his feet don't allow him to close as easily as Molendyk:
In-zone penalty kill #2:
A little over-aggressive here by Molendyk whose teammate is already attempting a shot block, but his positioning and skating again allow for excellent recovery. He realizes that the shot is taken by his teammate, and he directs Bedard into a less advantageous situation, keeping his stick on the ice and trailing all the way to the goalline.
The Final Gifs / Bedard hyperfixation:
These are all small, small plays that just demonstrate a change in mentality for Molendyk when it comes to Bedard. He realizes that Bedard is the best player on the ice, and his job has to be to contain him in some manner.
Here he switches his targeting before the pass to Bedard, and although he doesn't get in the way of the pass, he is at least in a position to maybe pick it off, and more importantly force the passer to pass wide to Bedard, meaning Bedard can't cut inside in one motion. Smart positional defense, instead of backing up and waiting for the play to hit his goaltender.
Can you really hate on a little junior razzing? Maybe a second late hit, but Molendyk doesn't just allow Bedard to dance around the zone without getting in his face. Often.
This play was so quick I almost missed it. Molendyk again pokecheck lunges while also maintaining position and backwards momentum (something that I cannot overstate how valuable a skill to have developed already is), and breaks the puck off Bedard's stick before even Bedard realizes it. You can tell Bedard's body is setting up for a move on Molendyk, who has already knocked it away from him. It's aggressive, simple, and effective. That honestly should just start being his catchphrase.
Alright last gif. I will preface this by saying I think this is what is happening here, but don't have definitive proof. On the penalty kill, Molendyk comes out to the point to cover Bedard, because he's hyperfocused on shutting him down. Once Bedard wanders out of the zone for a re-entry, Molendyk signals to the other point defender, letting him know "hey, hey, hey man Bedard he's coming". His defender doesn't realize it at first, and both other defenders point towards the puck carrier, then when Bedard re-enters, the other defenseman lifts his stick towards Bedard, signaling that he'll cover him. Molendyk appears to just know that approximately 3 seconds before his teammates do, and it speaks to his focus on shutting down Bedard.
Aggressive, simple, effective. That's the hallmark of Molendyk's defending when it comes to Bedard. Very occasionally he can get himself out of position by his aggressive style of defending, but it works more than it fails. He's able to challenge Bedard's stick early, recover if he gets beat, and re-challenge the play, forcing Bedard into less than ideal passing and shooting situations. He's focused on him almost every play, almost to a fault, especially if Bedard recognizes that level of commitment and attempts to make moves countering it.
Still though, Bedard is a special player. He's going to get his points and his goals at this level. As of now, Bedard has played two games against Saskatoon and has 4 goals and 3 assists. Molendyk has been on the ice for one of those 7 goals, while on the penalty kill, and none at even strength. There are three more games in March between the two clubs, and I can't wait to see if Molendyk continues the streak. It's doubtful, but I'm pretty confident I'll have fun watching it.
That's it! Next up is Luca Cagnoni.
Thanks for reading!