What were you doing at 13? Probably not getting courted by the best hockey agents in the world, but that’s the reality today for many elite teenagers. It seems bizarre to be chasing talent that hasn’t yet hit high school, but the reality is securing representation for a prospect has to happen before the competition gets there first. But what’s it like for the kids themselves? “It’s pretty cool,” said Connor Bedard. “All of them offer great aspects, and it’s cool getting to know them.”
Bedard is a lethal center from Vancouver whose puck-protection skills set him apart from the pack. He played two age groups up last season and could get “exceptional status” to play in the WHL a year early. Oh, and he’s about to enter Grade 8. Yes, Bedard is 13, but he and his family have already talked to rafts of agents who want to represent the young man. For the most part, his father talks to potential advisors over the phone, but Bedard’s parents have also had dinner with agents in Vancouver. Recently, Bedard was in Toronto at the Power Edge Pro camp, where he got to meet a few others in person.
Also attending Power Edge Pro was Shane Wright, a scoring center who is deciding whether to go for exceptional status in the OHL after this season. Wright is 14 and got his first call from an agent last summer. “I was just looking for someone who could provide us with the necessary resources to improve my skills,” Wright said. “And experience as well, to make the right decision on where I should go with my path. I wanted a genuine person who I can trust and rely on.”
Wright decided on KO Sports, the firm that represents Dylan Larkin, Jacob Trouba and John Gibson, among other NHLers.
I’ve spoken to many agents about this issue, and none of them particularly enjoys chasing clients who are so young, but this is where the race has led, and competition for the next Connor McDavid or John Tavares is fierce. One joke I’ve enjoyed is agents telling each other they’re not going to a certain youth tournament that weekend, then arriving to find they all showed up anyway.
Personally, I’d love if kids didn’t have to sign with agents until they were at least 15. At that point, a decision has to be made in terms of their path: play even a single exhibition game in major junior, and your NCAA eligibility is damaged. And if you’re planning on going to college, where should you play beforehand? There’s a wide variance in the quality of Jr. A programs in Canada, and not everyone can play for the Penticton Vees. In the U.S., the USHL is a solid bet, while the NAHL has some nice programs, too. But what are the good destinations in the USPHL, for example? Agents (or “family advisors” if the player is on the college track – same person, different guidelines) know these things. Parents may be guessing.
On the major junior track, agents can get great scholarship packages for clients, ensuring that if the player doesn’t end up playing pro, at least he’ll get his university education paid for by the team. And if a player isn’t getting treated well, the agent can act as an advocate for a trade.
But there is one reason I believe it’s OK for top-end agents to sign up kids when they are 13 and 14: if they don’t, a less reputable agent may dig their claws into a kid who deserves better. If Newport or Octagon or the Orr Group are interested in my kid, then signing with a random guy who makes a lot of promises shouldn’t be an option. I want Pat Brisson on my side, or Ryan Barnes, or Joe Resnick.
It’s nearly impossible to make it to the NHL, and that’s just the mathematics of the situation. Every player wants to get there, and few have the talent to actually make it happen. Of that select group, some will be waylaid by outside factors or just downright bad luck. But protecting the dreams of those kids should be up to those who do it best and have the right priorities. If they have to start talking to those players when they are 13, then so be it.
This story appears in the November 5, 2018 issue of The Hockey News magazine.