In these uncertain times, there’s one thing you can take to the bank: Connor Bedard will, at one point or another, suit up for the Regina Pats wearing #98 and he will take the Western Hockey League by storm.
The Western Hockey League’s first-ever Exceptional Player was drafted #1 overall by the Pats on April 22 after the club won the Draft Lottery weeks before.
Regina head coach Dave Struch saw his coaching resume change forever on March 25, 2020, when he learned his club won the lottery and would have the chance to take the North Vancouver, BC product with the #1 selection.
“The first thing I thought of obviously was the Exceptional Players who’ve gone through the CHL like Connor McDavid, John Tavares, Joey Veleno, Aaron Ekblad, the (Shane) Wright kid that played this year; these are special players,” Struch said in a phone interview this week. “Where they have come from, the process they went through and where they are now is special. The opportunity to meet and talk to the Bedard kid and be on the ice with him and lead him in the right direction is really exciting. For the organization, for the fans of the WHL, the fans in Regina, it is really special. As much as you want to say he’s a special player, it’s special for all of us in the league.”
Bedard first came on my radar just days before he was granted Exceptional Player status this spring, courtesy of Kevin Gallant, the longtime Voice of the Regina Pats (1980-88). Gallant’s son Matthew was teammates with Bedard on the West Van Warriors for the 2019-2020 season and Kevin texted, “Get ready for this guy”.
The right-handed shooting forward was listed at 5-foot-8, 165-pounds on draft day, and turned 15 on July 17. Turns out good things come in small packages!
And Struch burst out laughing when I asked if the blonde-haired phenom is ready to handle the pressure that’ll assuredly come with being compared to Connor McDavid, John Tavares, and the like.
“I don’t know if he feels any pressure,” Struch laughed. “It’s beyond any player or person I’ve conversed with at that age. It’s like he’s been here already and done that. That in itself, the maturity, in talking to people that went through the process with him, his best asset is his maturity.”
Count Western Hockey League Commissioner Ron Robison as another who shakes his head at Bedard’s “mature beyond his years” trait.
“Yeah you really marvel at Connor and his ability to handle all these things,” Robison said on The Rod Pedersen Show. “I look at all the players in the Western Hockey League and how they are mature beyond their years in every category including playing at a high level, their school responsibilities, handling the media and all the rest. It really is something to see and this will be a very exciting time for Connor and his family.”
Pressure? What pressure? Even Bedard himself handled the question with ease when asked about all which lays in store for him as the WHL’s first-ever Exceptional Player.
“I don’t feel it too much,” Bedard shrugged in an interview on The Rod Pedersen Show. “My agency’s been really good about keeping that to a minimum. I kinda am just able to go out and play and keep that in the back of my head. I don’t think about it too much.”
Commissioner Robison was quick to point out the Exceptional Player status was not a designation by the Western Hockey League.
“First of all, the Exceptional Player status is handled entirely by Hockey Canada and they have a very thorough process to evaluate players, not just their hockey-playing ability, but academically, overall maturity, and whether they’re ready to make the big step to play in the WHL at age 15 and Connor will be the first player to do that under this status,” Robison explained. “We’re looking forward with great excitement for him to continue his development in the WHL. There are very, very few players in this country with this status and those players have gone on to demonstrate at the NHL level that it was the right decision by Hockey Canada.”
Regina, which has never gotten its due as a hockey town, is already buzzing in anticipation of Bedard’s arrival. BEDARD 98 jerseys are for sale in the team store and special season ticket packages are on sale for Southern Saskatchewan hockey fans to witness Bedard’s first season.
Pats fans are already toying with whom Struch will partner Bedard on his forward lines.
“I have probably gone through 10, 12 different scenarios,” Struch chuckled. “We like them all because Connor’s involved in them. He’s going to make everyone around him better and there are all different situations. We’re gonna put him with young guys, old guys, but it’s yet to be seen. We have to get on the ice and get through this COVID situation before we finalize anything but I’m sure all of our guys will get a chance to experience some ice time with him.”
We’re all anxiously awaiting – and praying for – WHL hockey to return this fall but it seems no one is more eager than Bedard.
“Just in talking to him, like I said, the maturity seems like he’s just waiting for this,” Struch concluded. “The battle, the compete, the way he talks about the game and his life. When you ask him any type of questions, it’s about success.
“That just bodes so well for him and his future and also all the people he’ll help along the way. As a coach, I always want to learn and he’s going to help me learn as well. It’s exciting to be a part of it and I just hope we get to experience it sooner than later.”
Unfortunately on that last part, there is no guarantee.
(The Rod Pedersen Show airs daily at 10:00 am MT on Game+ TV Network in over one million homes in Canada and the US. Contact your cable provider for details)