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North Vancouver’s Connor Bedard is weeks into a WHL career that started ahead of the usual schedules, and folks are already suggesting what his long-term future in hockey could look like.
“I think he’s going to be a heck of a player in the NHL,” Moose Jaw Warriors assistant general manager Jason Ripplinger said of Bedard, the Regina Pats’ centre who’s all of 15 years old.
The Bedard hype train started to gain speed last March, when Hockey Canada made the North Shore Winter Club minor hockey alum and West Vancouver Hockey Academy product the seventh player ever, and the first from the WHL, to receive exceptional player status, meaning that he could be a regular in major junior hockey ahead of his 16-year-old season.
The previous six to be fast-tracked were: John Tavares (2005), Aaron Ekblad (2011), Connor McDavid (2012), Sean Day (2013), Joe Veleno (2015) and Shane Wright (2019).
And, with all that, Bedard has somehow been as good as the considerable advertising so far in this abbreviated, COVID-19-hampered campaign. Going into Tuesday, he was third in WHL scoring, with 17 points, including seven goals, in nine games.
He isn’t eligible for the NHL Draft until 2023.
In his first 9 games in the @TheWHL, 15 year old Connor Bedard from North Vancouver has 7-10-17 with the Regina Pats. https://t.co/P4P6dCBEen— Gord Miller (@GMillerTSN) March 30, 2021
“He’s very smart. You’re not sure what he’s going to do when he has the puck. A lot of guys telegraph what they’re going to do,” said Ripplinger, who’s a former Vancouver Giants’ director of player personnel. “He’s able to slow the game down, bring all the defenders to him and then make the right play.
“His hockey sense is very good.”
And this Connor Bedard assist was sweeter than homemade 🍎 pie #whl #pats pic.twitter.com/StCU9I9img— Claire Hanna (@clahanna) March 30, 2021
The Pats were slated to play the Warriors on Tuesday night, marking the teams’ second meeting
as members of the Regina hub
. Seven WHL teams from Saskatchewan and Manitoba are a part of that setup.
The WHL’s B.C. Division has its five teams — the Giants, Prince George Cougars, Kamloops Blazers, Victoria Royals and Kelowna Rockets — based in hubs in Kamloops and Kelowna.
Prince Albert Raiders coach Marc Habscheid, whose team has faced the Pats twice so far this season, believes that Bedard “thinks the game and has composure at an elite level.” He did tag the 5-foot-9, 165 pound Bedard as being “very strong” as well.
Saskatoon Blades coach Mitch Love, whose squad has also played the Pats twice to date, had a similar scouting report on Bedard.
“He’s obviously a special talent, but to watch the maturity of his game at 15 in terms of making plays under pressure against older players is very impressive. You can see confidence in just his body language on the ice each game,” Love reported. “The deception to his shot and release along with his vision to make players around him better at that age is extraordinary.”
The Pats used the first overall pick in the 2020 WHL bantam draft last April to nab Bedard’s rights.
Bedard’s 84 points, including 43 goals, in 36 games for West Vancouver
, paced the Canadian Sport School under-18 league in scoring despite him being three years younger than some of the players in the circuit.
Steve Marr was Bedard’s coach at West Van and the former Medicine Hat Tigers defenceman insisted
last spring that Bedard was already ready for regular duty in the WHL.
He’s not the least bit surprised at what he’s accomplished so far.
“His talent and his ability to do things on the ice is undeniable, but having a first-hand understanding and experience of Connor’s drive, his character, his mental toughness and his desire to be the best version of himself every single day … he is special for a reason,” Marr explained.
Bedard told the
I Only Touch Greatness podcast
that he aimed for the exceptional player status because being “able to play at a higher level and challenge yourself is something you want as a competitor and an athlete.”
The WHL drafts players at 14 and normally allows 15 year-olds five games as a call-up until their minor hockey season is complete. Once minor hockey is done, a 15-year-old can become a regular with his WHL team.
Connor Bedard, who was granted WHL exceptional status has scored his first WHL goal. Weaves through traffic along the blue line and delivers. #2023NHLDraft pic.twitter.com/TKzkI53X6w— Josh Tessler (@JoshTessler_) March 13, 2021
COVID-19 has wreaked havoc on minor hockey across Canada. In B.C., there’s been no games between rival teams since December.
With all that, various 15-year-olds could see extended duty with WHL teams over the next few weeks.
In this 24-game hub season, teams are permitted to have up to two players from the 2020 bantam draft on their roster. Moose Jaw Warriors forward Brayden Yager, who was the third overall pick in the draft, had played nine games going into Tuesday, for instance.
The league’s 22 teams will play the regular season within their own division. The league hasn’t ruled out playoffs, but it’s unlikely.
The Alberta division was the first one to start, beginning Feb. 26. The Regina hub began March 12. Games didn’t start in Kelowna and Kamloops until only last Friday.