Exceptional! Connor Bedard becomes youngest WHL player

The 14-year-old phenom from North Vancouver is given permission to enter junior league a year early with Regina Pats
connor bedard Connor Bedard signing his contract with the Regina Pats yesterday. The prospect will be the youngest player in the WHL next year. (Courtesy of Regina Pats)

Due to COVID-19, there's not a lot of sports happening these days. The major sports networks in Canada are rebroadcasting famous playoff series from teams like the Blue Jays, Raptors, Canadiens, Oilers, and Flames.

But among these past glories, there's also news of the bright future. And in the world of hockey, this news has a name: Connor Bedard.

On Wednesday, the player from North Vancouver, BC, was selected number one overall by the Regina Pats in the Western Hockey League (WHL) Bantam Draft. This process — where teams in the WHL choose young prospects to join their teams happens every year, and every year there's a number one pick. So what makes Connor special?

He's doing it all a year earlier than anyone ever has in the league.

Exceptional status

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Present New York Islanders star Matthew Barzal in 2017 during his days on the Seattle Thunderbirds of the WHL. Like Bedard, Barzal was a number one pick, but he wasn't as young then as Connor is now. (Getty Embed)

According the league rules, the youngest a player can be when entering the WHL is 16. Connor is just 14. His July birthday will make him 15 before the puck drops on a new season, but it's still one year under the official cutoff. So why the exception?

Because Connor Bedard is exceptional.

Even while barely a teenager playing centre for West Vancouver Academy Prep, he won his league's scoring title with 43 goals and 41 assists in only 36 games played. That averages out to more than 2 points per game, all while skating against players who were older than him. (Unreal!)

He applied with Hockey Canada to be given 'exceptional status' and be allowed to enter the WHL draft a year early. The national organization said he could.

So when the Regina Pats, who had this year's number one pick in the WHL draft, knew he was available, they knew who they would choose. Connor all the way.

Listen to him talk to the Regina Leader-Post about getting selected number one below.

What is junior hockey?

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The Regina Pats have a long history and a big fanbase. They went to the Memorial Cup final in 2018. (Getty Embed)

If you were paying attention in the video, you might have heard Connor talk about "The 'dub" (it's at 0:08).

That's slang for the WHL, one of Canada's three major junior hockey leagues. There's also the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) and the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL, or 'The Q'). Altogether, these form the Canadian Hockey League (CHL).

In addition to drawing large crowds from coast-to-coast, the CHL is where many of the best players aged 16 to 20 go to develop their careers with dreams of becoming pros in the NHL. A large majority of the players who are drafted by teams in the NHL come from either the OHL, QMJHL, or WHL.

How good could Connor really be?

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Connor McDavid while playing as the captain of the OHL's Erie Otters in 2015. McDavid was also granted exceptional status for the OHL draft in 2012. (Getty Embed)

Evaluating young talent is very difficult. Even at 18 years old, athletes still have growing to do in every way — physical, mental, and skill-wise. But there are players who shine through.

Though Bedard is the first player to be given exceptional status in the WHL, it has happened in the OHL before. In 2005, Leafs captain John Tavares was drafted a year early, and in 2012, Oiler captain McDavid, joined the league at 15. Does Connor Bedard have the same bright future?

His first real test will be in the WHL, a competitive league that is full of future NHLers.

Watch a highlight pack of the 14-year-old as number 98 on West Van Prep below. Do you think he has what it takes to make it?

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