TORONTO — There won’t be any surprises Wednesday when it comes to the No. 1 selection at the 2020 Western Hockey League Bantam Draft.
The Regina Pats announced Tuesday they will be selecting forward Connor Bedard — the first player to ever be awarded exceptional player status for the WHL.
“Clearly we think a lot of him, he was No. 1 in our eyes,” said general manager John Paddock. “Probably about a month before (he was granted status) I met Connor’s family and we told them we would take him with the pick if we had it.”
Unlike all other drafted players who must wait one season to join their new WHL team, the 14-year-old Bedard will be allowed to make an immediate impact with a spot in the lineup for the upcoming season.
“Growing up watching the WHL I always had dreams of playing there,” said Bedard, who has already signed his WHL standard player agreement with the Pats. “Dreaming of this since I was five or six, it’s a big step in my hockey career… I couldn’t be happier and I’m very excited.”
Bedard, from North Vancouver, played this past season at the under-17 level in the Canadian Sport School Hockey League for West Van Academy Prep. He was named the league’s most valuable player while taking the scoring title with 43 goals and 84 points in 36 games. He has spent the majority of his childhood playing against skaters older than him.
“For us as an organization Connor is extremely mature, great family background, he loves hockey as we all do but he puts everything into it as far as training,” said Paddock. “He’s so bought in and that’s a sign of maturity.”
Bedard, five-foot-eight 165 pounds, says he doesn’t try and model his game after any specific player and wants to be held accountable everywhere on the ice.
“I try and pick things from different players,” said Bedard. “I’m a pretty good 200-foot centre, obviously best in the offensive end. I like to think I can produce but the next step is tough and I’m just going to play as hard as I can.”
Paddock added that Bedard can be a game changer with his ability to score goals.
“Nothing I don’t like,” said Paddock. “(But) if I was to pick one skill set, he shoots the puck like no other 14-year-old in the world.”
Bedard, who turns 15 in July, applied for exceptional player status in December and was notified by Hockey Canada in March that he would be allowed to enter the league of 16 to 20 year olds a year earlier than his peers. The decision was made after an intense review that included interviews with his school teachers and family, as well as a personal essay Bedard wrote explaining why he was ready to make the jump.
Exceptional player status is rarely given out by Hockey Canada. The Ontario Hockey League has had five players granted status beginning with John Tavares in 2005-06. Aaron Ekblad, Connor McDavid, Sean Day, and Shane Wright are the others while Detroit Red Wings draft pick Joe Veleno is the lone player from the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.
Bedard feels his work ethic can help him take the next step when the 2020-21 campaign begins.
“You’re always doing something to improve your game, not many days I’m off the ice,” said Bedard. “I’m gonna work my hardest. I do think I can make an impact if I’m playing at my best.”
The WHL draft will be held online this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Early scouting reports suggest that the right-handed centre could be the No. 1 pick at the 2023 NHL Draft.