2020 WHL Draft First Round Recap: Part 1

Regina Pats – Connor Bedard

As we all know by now, Connor Bedard was given exceptional status by Hockey Canada making him the first WHLer to receive it. With that being said, it was inevitable that the Regina Pats would take him first overall. After being selected by the Pats, Bedard became the first player from the West Warriors program to be selected first overall.

Bedard graded extremely high in our final newsletter all five categories – skating, skill, shot, smarts, and physical. 

Both his skill and shot were graded at five.

He’s got a dangerous shot with a lightning-quick release. The puck comes off his stick fast, and he never has any problems picking his spot on goalies. Bedard combines his quick puck skills and creativity to handle the puck around defenders with his elite-level hands. He’s got a high hockey IQ that allows him to know where everyone is on the ice, makes the right plays with the puck, has the awareness to control the puck where others cannot reach it, and executes quickly on those plays.

Bedard couldn’t be joining the Regina Pats at a more perfect time. Since losing in the WHL finals three years ago, the Pats have only one winning season to their name and won only 21 games last year before the season abruptly ended. With the Pats top two scorers ageing out – Austin Pratt and Robbie Holmes – it leaves the door open for Bedard to secure some top minutes both five on five and on the power play.

Selecting Matthew Wood in the second round is also a huge get for the organization. We regarded Wood as a top 10 talent in this year’s draft.

Overall, Bedard is the perfect player to represent the first WHL exceptional status. It’s going to be exciting to watch how he performs in the WHL next season and for years to come.

Prince George Cougars – Riley Heidt

The Prince George Cougars kicked off their 2020 draft by selecting Riley Heidt from the Saskatoon Contacts with their first of three first rounders. Rumour has it that Heidt, and his teammate Brayden Yager, applied for exceptional status like Connor Bedard. There hasn’t been anything to come out about this being accepted, so we assume that he didn’t receive it; however, it shows how elite of a player he is.

Heidt played up a level this year in Midget AAA rather than playing his final year of Bantam AA with the Martensville Marauders – who he played for the two years before.

Riley Heidt is a dynamic dual-threat centre. He plays with confidence, flair, and finesse and possesses a high level of skill. His skating ability is tremendous, and when he is navigating around the ice he looks like he is hovering. His acceleration separates instantly from the defender; his agility is difficult to contain and has blissful edgework. He is known to be a bit of risk-taker with the puck but with that comes big plays. Heidt has a very high hockey IQ who plays a 200-foot game. He’s not the biggest kid on the ice, but he never shies away from a body check or the chippy side of the game.

Overall, Prince George is getting a game-breaking skillful forward who can make flashy and dazzling offensive plays while also being responsible in his zone.

If he and Koehn Ziemmer – their first-round pick from last season – can build some chemistry, Prince George could have a deadly duo on their hands.

Moose Jaw Warriors – Brayden Yager

The Moose Jaw Warriors opted to go with Heidt’s teammate Brayden Yager with the third overall pick. 

Much like Bedard, Yager graded extremely high in our five categories.

Yager is a dynamic player who has little to no holes to his game. He is elite in almost every area and has the potential to be the face of the WHL in a few years. He has a brilliant offensive mind which allows him to be imaginative with the puck on his stick. Yager can both shoot and pass at a high level, and he has a hard and accurate shot that comes off his stick with lightning speed and forces goalies to react in a hurry. One major thing about Yager that is impressive is the structure for which he plays in; there are no turnovers or mistakes with the kid. He’s got a very pro-style game. Yager also has that pest side to his game as he loves to get under the opponent’s skin similar to current WHLer Connor Zary.

The Warriors will be hoping he can fill the void in a couple of years that Brayden Tracey left, and become that next franchise talent. Moose Jaw has a very young core already and by the time Yager is a full-timer they’re going to be a much-improved team. I am sure the Warriors young core will be happy to see Yager in the lineup.

Tri-City Americans – Lukas Dragecevic

General Manager Bob Tory and his team had a couple of unbelievable options for defencemen at number four. They ultimately went with Delta Green defenceman Lukas Dragicevic – the son of former WHLer Milan Dragicvic. 

Dragicevic was a dominant offensive defenceman in the CSSHL scoring 52 points (8 goals, 44 assists) in 30 games. Those 52 points were the second most by a defenceman, behind Tanner Molendyk of the Yale Academy Lions. A lot of his offensive instincts come from after playing forward for some many years. It was only this season that he switched to defence.

He has a brilliant offensive mind that can navigate the play from the blue line. He’s typically the guy to ignite the offence whether it be with a perfect pass down the ice or he uses his feet to carry the puck. When he does carry the puck, although he isn’t the greatest skater, he sure is the strongest. Dragicevic uses his big frame effectively to hold off his opponent, making it difficult to get the puck off him. He was Delta’s QB1 for their power play and did a superb job with it. His great vision and hammer of a slap shot made him a perfect fit for that role.

Dragicevic also has a very physical side to him. He loves to slam the opposition into the boards to assert his physical dominance on the game.

He still needs to tidy up his defensive game, but that will come with time. Right now, he uses his body and stick to keep his opponents to the outside, and it’s done well for him so far.

Throughout his WHL career and beyond, Dragicevic is going to be a difficult player to go up against.

Saskatoon Blades – Tanner Molendyk

The Saskatoon Blades went with the best skating defenceman in the draft by selecting Yale Academy Lion, Tanner Molendyk. Molendyk was ranked as the number one defenceman in the draft, but teams were unsure of whether or not he would commit to the league. All that doubt was put to rest shortly after the draft after Molendyk tweeted out that he had full intentions of playing junior hockey in Saskatoon.

Molendyk scored an impressive 55 points (9 goals, 46 assists) in 27 games which were the most by a defenceman in the CSSHL. It’s also the most by a defenceman in the league’s six-year history.

Molendyk was also named CSSHL defenseman of the year and was named a top player at the Bauer Elite, John Reid, and the NWCAA Flames tournaments.

One of my favourite traits about Molendyk is how simply he plays the game. He consistently makes great hard transition passes to his forwards, which often catch the opposing defensemen off guard due to how quickly he reads the play and fires it down the ice. His skating ability is also incredible. Molendyk skates naturally and smoothly down the ice. His foot speed is like no other, which helps ramp up the tempo of the game.

In his defensive end, Molendyk has that great understanding of the game. Along with his skating, he can find and swiftly jump into passing lanes and cause a turnover.

Overall, the Blades just got themselves one of the next great WHL two-way defencemen at fifth overall.