Regina Pats name Connor Bedard top pick in draft

Connor Bedard is one of only a handful of players to receive exceptional player status.

Big things expected from kid phenom labelled an exceptional player

Connor Bedard, who carries an Exceptional Player label, selected first overall by the Regina Pats in the WHL Bantam Draft. (CSSHL)

When you are already being compared to the best hockey player in the world and you're still not old enough to pressure.

Nobody is saying 14-year-old Connor Bedard can play like Connor McDavid yet, but the two share a common trait

Both were given exceptional player status. Only a handful of players can brag about that.

Only seven hockey players in Canada have earned that title, a list that also includes John Tavares.

Bedard is also the first from Western Canada.

What exceptional player status means, as far as the Regina Pats are concerned, is money in the bank.

Barring any pandemic disruptions, Bedard will be able to suit up full time with the Pats as a 15-year-old in 2020-21.

Fifteen-year-olds are normally capped at five games in junior hockey, which means Pats' fans are the beneficiaries, as they get 34 home games plus any playoff action, to see this phenom up close.

There will also be plenty of opportunities to purchase a number 98 Pats jersey.

Connor Bedard, who carries an Exceptional Player label, selected first overall by the Regina Pats in the WHL Bantam Draft. (CSSHL)

There was never any secret that Pats GM John Paddock would select Bedard number one in the WHL Bantam Draft. In fact, the draft lottery may as well have been dubbed the Connor Bedard lottery.

"He's extremely mature. He's bought in and he knows where he wants to go with it." said Paddock on the eve of the draft.

"There's nothing I don't like. You talk about a hockey player, you talk about different things like hockey sense and skating ability and competitiveness that are important to all of us, but if I was to pick one skill set that's pretty obvious when you see him play, he shoots the puck like no other 14 year old does, I'm sure, in the world."

In what will undoubtedly be his final season with West Vancouver Academy, Bedard lit up the Canadian Sport School Hockey League with 84 points (43 goals, 41 assists) in 36 games.

Making the jump to the Western Hockey League will be his dream come true.

"I've been dreaming of this since 5 or 6 watching the dub (WHL). Obviously, this is a big step in my hockey career, super excited and it's definitely really surreal." said Bedard after his pre-draft contract signing with the Pats.

Even though the first overall pick announcement in the draft is a foregone conclusion, he's still excited about the draft day experience.

"Me and my family couldn't be happier. It's pretty crazy. We're still watching the draft, seeing lots of friends of mine get picked. Pretty cool experience for everyone."

Regina Pats GM John Paddock compares the hype Connor Bedard will generate to that of the Finnish Flash in Winnipeg. (WHL)

The five-foot-eight Bedard describes himself as a 200-foot-centre, but he's at his best in the offensive end.

Pats fans will immediately draw comparisons to Sam Steel, Jordan Weal and Jordan Eberle, three other extremely skilled forwards from the team's recent past.

Dave Struch wouldn't commit to what role he sees Bedard playing in his WHL rookie year, but the Pats' coach sounded excited to watch it play out.

"He's going to get lots of opportunities, lots of opportunities to have a lot of success and make mistakes." said Struch.

"They get chances to fail and learn from their failures."

Obviously the Pats don't feel Bedard will have many.

Paddock compared the hype this teenage phenom will generate to that of Teemu Selanne, who Paddock coached while with the Winnipeg Jets in the early 90's.

If Bedard has anywhere near the career to that of the Finnish Flash, that will be something to watch.

But the NHL stage will have to wait. At least until 2023, the Regina Pats get to enjoy the ride until then.