Connor Bedard, 14, is the first player to ever be awarded exceptional player status for the WHL, in an April 22, 2020 story. (Photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Pats take Bedard first overall in WHL bantam draft, Heidt goes second to Cougars

The Regina Pats finalized their selection of forward Connor Bedard with the first pick in Wednesday’s WHL Bantam Draft.

The announcement was a formality, as the Pats had already stated their intention to select Bedard first overall.

Bedard, 14, is the first player to ever be awarded exceptional player status for the WHL, meaning he can enter the league right away. The North Vancouver native, played this past season at the under-17 level in the Canadian Sport School Hockey League for West Van Academy Prep.

He was named the league’s most valuable player while taking the scoring title with 43 goals and 84 in 36 games.

Bedard, who turns 15 in July, applied for exceptional player status in December and was notified by Hockey Canada in March that he would be allowed to enter the league of 16-to-20-year-olds a year earlier than his peers.

Exceptional player status is rarely given out by Hockey Canada. The Ontario Hockey League has had five players granted status beginning with John Tavares in 2005-06. Aaron Ekblad, Connor McDavid, Sean Day, and Shane Wright are the others while Detroit Red Wings draft pick Joe Veleno is the lone player from the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.

The Prince George Cougars selected forward Riley Heidt with the second pick. Heidt, from Saskatoon, had 17 goals and 20 assists this season with the Saskatoon Contacts of the Saskatchewan Midget AAA Hockey League.

Brayden Yager, Heidt’s teammate, was taken third by the Moose Jaw Warriors. Yager, a forward from Dundurn, Sask., had 18 goals and 24 assists for the Contacts in 2019-20.

The Tri-City Americans selected defenceman Lukas Dragicevic fourth overall. The native of Richmond, B.C., had eight goals and 44 assists with Delta Hockey Academy of the Canadian Sport School Hockey League’s bantam prep division.

Tanner Molendyk, a defenceman from McBride, B.C., who had nine goals and 46 assists for Yale Hockey Academy of the CSSHL, was taken fifth by the Saskatoon Blades.

Rounding out the top 10 was: Kalan Lind, forward, Red Deer Rebels (6th); Sam Oremba, forward, Seattle Thunderbirds (7th); Andrew Cristall, forward, Kelowna Rockets (8th); Austin Zemlak, defenceman, Victoria Royals (9th); and Mazden Leslie, defenceman, Vancouver Giants (10th).

The draft was conducted online due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on April 22, 2020.

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