Connor Bedard, a 14-year-old forward with the West Vancouver Academy Under-18 team, has been granted exceptional player status and will be eligible to play all of next season in the Western Hockey League as a 15-year-old.
Players generally are drafted into the WHL at age 15 but can play a maximum of five games in the league at that age unless their midget team's season has ended.
Bedard is the seventh player to receive exceptional player status, and the first from western Canada. He joins Toronto Maple Leafs center John Tavares (2005), Florida Panthers defensemen Aaron Ekblad (2011), Edmonton Oilers center Connor McDavid (2012), New York Rangers defenseman prospect Sean Day (2013), Detroit Red Wings forward prospect Joseph Veleno (2015) and Shane Wright of Kington of the Ontario Hockey League (2019). Veleno, who turned pro this season after four seasons in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, had been the only player outside the Ontario Hockey League to receive exceptional player status.
Bedard will be eligible for the 2023 NHL Draft.
"Obviously it's a huge honor," Bedard said Wednesday. "The past few days have been pretty surreal looking at guys like McDavid, Tavares, Ekblad, even Shane Wright what he did this year (led OHL rookies with 66 points) is just crazy. To have my name even in the same sentence as those guys, it's really cool and I'm really honored.
Regina, which has the first pick of the 2020 WHL draft on April 22, announced it will select Bedard.
"We will be selecting him first," Regina general manager John Paddock told the Regina Leader-Post on Wednesday. "I would have said this regardless but the exceptional status made it even more obvious to everybody. There's no secret with this."
Bedard said he's looking forward to starting next season with Regina.
"Ever since I was a kid I dreamed of playing in the WHL and Regina's the oldest franchise in the league," Bedard said. "I've been in touch with them, John Paddock is obviously a great guy, and that organization, I've heard only good things so I couldn't be more thrilled with going to Regina. I'm sure it'll be like a great experience for me and my family is really excited too."
Bedard (5-foot-8, 165 pounds) led the Canadian Sports School Hockey League with 84 points (43 goals, 41 assists) in 36 games. He turns 15 on July 17.
"I have zero doubts that he will have success," Steve Marr, Bedard's coach, told Sportsnet. "Yes, he's 5-foot-8, 165 pounds, but he's a pretty thick 165 pounds. As far as how he'll handle the bigger bodies at that level, he's got a pretty good base on his center of gravity. He doesn't get knocked around easily. He's very strong in his core, his legs and his stability, and he's strong on his edges. From that aspect, he won't have issues. ... There's no doubt in my mind that he'll have a lot of success next year as a 15-year-old."
Marr said that success will come because of a top-end offensive game that allowed him to succeed as a 14-year-old in a league consisting of 15- and 16-year-old players this season.
"His obvious skills sets are an unbelievable shot and an unbelievable ability to stickhandle through guys," Marr said. "But an underrated aspect is his ability to use his teammates, which spreads the ice open so he can utilize his skill sets more. He creates space, whereas a lot of kids with those skills, they'll try to do it all themselves.
"And his shot is so good that one of the overlooked attributes is his ability to pass the puck and find teammates through seams that most, if not all players can't."
The review process to determine exceptional player status was administered by BC Hockey with a Hockey Canada Special Evaluation Panel assembled to evaluate Bedard's potential in the areas of hockey skills, academic ability, and mental and physical maturity.
"BC Hockey would like to congratulate Connor on being announced as the first player from Western Canada to be granted exceptional status in the CHL and WHL," BC Hockey Chief Executive Officer Barry Petrachenko said. "Throughout the evaluation process Connor has displayed the tremendous potential he has both mentally and physically to be able to be granted exceptional status."