History has been made in the Western Hockey League. Hockey Canada has approved Connor Bedard’s request to be the first-ever player to gain exceptional status in the WHL, joining an elite list of players in the Canadian Hockey League to be granted the honour.
From BC Hockey’s press release, “Exceptional player status is granted to a player whose qualities not only on the ice, but as a person, deem the player deserving of the rare privilege of participating in the CHL at an early age. Consideration of such status is only granted to a player whose ongoing development is more likely to be significantly enhanced by playing in the CHL as a 15-year-old than by participating in his designated age division next season.”
The process takes into account the player’s skill, academic ability, and both physical and mental maturity. Bedard did well in all of these areas, according to BC Hockey Chief Executive Officer Barry Petrachenko.
“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. Throughout the evaluation process Connor has displayed the tremendous potential he has both mentally and physically to be able to be granted exceptional status.”
Bedard was one of three players to apply for exceptional status in the WHL this season, along with Brayden Yager and Riley Heidt. There’s been no word on Yager or Heidt as of yet, but after turning down promising prospect Matthew Savoie last year, it doesn’t look likely for these two.
In a release from the WHL, the league’s Bantam Draft will take place online, due to the COVID-19 outbreak, on April 22. The WHL Draft Lottery, however, will take place on March 25, where one of six teams will earn the right to draft the exceptional player. Those teams are the Swift Current Broncos, Moose Jaw Warriors, Tri-City Americans, Prince George Cougars, Regina Pats, and the Red Deer Rebels.
The CHL has seen six players granted exceptional status in the past, five in the OHL (John Tavares, Aaron Ekblad, Connor McDavid, Sean Day and Shane Wright, who just finished up his exceptional season), and one in the QMJHL (Joe Veleno). Bedard is joining a very elite group.
Getting to Know Connor Bedard
Bedard is coming off of a big season in the Canadian Sport School Hockey League (CSSHL), with the West Vancouver Academy Prep U18 team – at 14 years old. In 36 games, he put up 43 goals, 41 assists, and a massive 84 points.
In his first year at that level, he led both his team and the entire league in points. That point total is also good for third-best in the league ever, although the two players ahead of him were 16 and 17 years old – two and three years older than Bedard.
Bedard is a special player, and that’s obvious now that he’s been granted exceptional status. But for many, this was obvious well before this announcement. The 5-foot-8, 165-pound forward oozes offensive ability. He has a natural ability to score, potting goals at a 2.13 rate in 2018-19 and 1.19 rate (against 18-year-olds) in 2019-20.
Bedard combines elite edge work, elite puck handling, and elite creativity. If you can’t tell, he is an elite prospect. His hockey IQ is off the charts, and he reads plays like few before him. Even at his age, he’s already drawn comparisons to Sidney Crosby and Connor McDavid. Heard of them?
What might be the most impressive part of Bedard’s game is his confidence and composure. Despite playing against players years older than him, he doesn’t show nerves. While he’s been known to put pressure on himself, he makes his game seem effortless. For such a young player, he’s playing beyond his years.
Bedard is already looking like the top prospect in the 2023 NHL Draft, and this news helps to bolster that. Granted, that’s a few years away and anything could happen. What’s certain now is that Bedard has made history in this announcement, and he’s just getting started.
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Starting out as an Ottawa Senators contributor for The Hockey Writers, Josh is now an editor and at-large contributor, focusing on prospects, the NHL Draft, hockey history, and breaking news stories.