The WHL Bantam Draft wrapped up on Wednesday and it was an historic occasion. With the first pick overall, the Regina Pats selected center Connor Bedard, the first player ever granted Exceptional Status by Hockey Canada to join the league a year early.
Given how Bedard tore it up with West Van Academy in his native Vancouver this year, none of this was a surprise. Bedard has a world-class shot and is incredibly dangerous offensively already. But getting Exceptional Status takes more than that and Bedard also checked the off-ices boxes as well, something Regina GM John Paddock has already recognized.
“Connor is extremely mature,” Paddock said. “He’s got a great family background, he loves hockey and puts everything into it. And he knows where he wants to go with it.”
As for Bedard, getting picked and signing that first WHL contract with the Pats was a dream come true for the 14-year-old.
“It’s such a great organization,” Bedard said. “I obviously couldn’t be happier and I’m very excited to get started.”
While Bedard will get a chance to make an instant impact with the Pats, the rest of his draft class will have to settle for a handful of WHL games next season. For the majority of the 2020-21 campaign, they’ll return to their minor hockey teams to get more seasoning. The most intriguing team to watch in that respect with be the Saskatoon Contacts, home of the second and third overall WHL picks, Riley Heidt and Brayden Yager.
Heidt went second to B.C.’s Prince George Cougars, while Yager was snapped up by his home province’s Moose Jaw Warriors with the third pick. Naturally Bedard is going to have a competitive advantage amongst the trio, since he’ll be able to get comfortable in the ‘Dub’ a year early, but some scouts see Yager’s long-term potential as being just as high as that of Bedard.
Another fascinating storyline from the first round was how well traditional local programs did. The recent trend in the WHL draft has been early dominance by the Canadian Sport School Hockey League (CSSHL), made up of specialty prep programs such as Okanagan, The Edge School and Saskatchewan’s Notre Dame, not to mention Bedard’s West Van Academy. In 2017, for example, CSSHL products made up nine of the top-10 picks, but the locals have been battling back since then. The CSSHL got six top-10 selections last year and five this year. Two kids from the Saskatoon Contacts certainly helped the local organizations’ cause, but Swift Current, Regina and Lloydminster also claimed top-10 picks.
Having said that, the last time the first overall pick did not come from the CSSHL was back in 2016, when Peyton Krebs of the Rocky Mountain Raiders bantam program was selected by Kootenay.
Certainly there are pros to both pathways, so it’s nice to see each stream getting rewarded.
Finally, I can’t leave you without my favorite names of the draft. It’s become an annual tradition amongst hockey writers to marvel at some of the bold and inventive names some of these gifted players have been bestowed with by their parents and sometimes there’s even an element of fulfilled destiny, like when Brandon native Wheaton King was taken by the Brandon Wheat Kings. So here’s my top-10 fave names from the 2020 WHL Draft:
Talon Brigley, C, Red Deer
Bauer Dumanski, LW, Prince George
Kooper Gizowski, C, Spokane
Teydon Trembecky, LW, Brandon
Eastyn Mannix, D, Brandon
Cosmo Wilson, D, Moose Jaw
Oakley Mcilwain, D, Brandon
Jeter Korte, C, Brandon
Omen Harmacy, D, Winnipeg
Foxx McColl, D, Winnipeg