The half-dozen who played for the Canadian junior men’s hockey team at age 16 is sprinkled with names like Gretzky, Crosby and McDavid.
Connor Bedard of North Vancouver, B.C., wants to join that group at selection camp in Calgary.
It’s a tall order for an underage teen to compete against more mature players at the world under-20 championship.
The first Western Hockey League player to be granted “exceptional status” and enter the WHL at age 15, Bedard led the Regina Pats in scoring with 14 goals and 10 assists in 24 games in his second season upon arrival at selection camp.
Bedard had yet to turn 16 when he contributed seven goals and seven assists in seven games to Canada’s world men’s under-18 title in April.
The five-foot-nine, 180-pounder is among 20 forwards at the junior team’s selection camp that concludes Monday when Canada’s 25-man roster is unveiled.
“He has to be among the top 22 players is what he has to do,” Canadian head coach Dave Cameron said. “He has to be who Connor Bedard is, which is really good with the puck. He’s a gifted player. He has to come in and show it against this age group.”
Canada starts the world under-20 tournament in Edmonton and Red Deer, Alta., on Dec. 26 against the Czech Republic.
It seems Bedard has a long runway to play for Canada’s juniors in the future given his age, but those chances are limited if the NHL club that drafts him in 2023 decides to keep an 18-year-old Bedard on its roster.
“You come in with the intention to make it,” Bedard said. “These guys are a couple years older and the best players in the country.
“It’s a short camp. It’s going to be a couple of games and obviously a few practices. In that short time, just try to show them my game and how I can help the team win a gold medal.”
Canada’s campers will face a U Sports squad in games Saturday and Sunday. Both defenceman Lukas Cormier and forward Mason McTavish skated Friday.
Cormier’s flight to Calgary was delayed and McTavish stayed off the ice Thursday awaiting the results of a COVID-19 test.
Wayne Gretzky (1978), Eric Lindros (1990), Jason Spezza and Jay Bouwmeester (2000), Sidney Crosby (2004) and Connor McDavid (2014) played for Canada’s juniors at 16.
McDavid turned 17 a week after the tournament ended. Bouwmeester is the lone defenceman in the group and was the youngest at 16 years two months and 29 days.
Kingston Frontenacs forward Shane Wright was invited to last year’s selection camp in Red Deer as a 16-year-old, and was released.
That camp was interrupted by a 14-day hotel quarantine for all players after two tested positive for COVID-19, so time for the Burlington, Ont., forward to prove himself was compressed.
Wright, who was Canada’s under-18 captain and Bedard’s teammate, is back at age 17.
“Just the disappointment of not making that team, going into the camp my goal was to make that team and it wasn’t the case,” Wright said. “So I think just use that as motivation to make the team this year.”
Wright and Bedard are among seven players granted major junior hockey’s “exceptional status” which for the last 16 years allows an underage player to enter those leagues if they meet certain criteria.
Current Toronto Maple Leafs captain John Tavares, Aaron Ekblad, McDavid, Sean Day and Wright were granted exceptional status by the OHL. Joe Veleno is the lone QMJHL player to receive that designation.
A 15-year-old Bedard compiled 12 goals and 16 assists in 15 games for the Pats in a 2020-21 season shortened by the pandemic.
The OHL didn’t operate, so Wright says he used the time to build up his strength and power.
“That’s a big part of my game I’ve really improved on,” he said.
He led Canada with a goal and two assists in the under-18 final in Texas, and tied Bedard for a team-leading 14 points in the tournament.