Connor Bedard is just one member of the Regina Pats who's getting a head start on this season

Regina Pats forwards Connor Bedard, Zack Smith and Carter Massier are among the WHL players expected to see action in other leagues this fall.

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The longest off-season in WHL history is getting a little shorter for a few members of the Regina Pats.

Players from around the WHL are exercising their option to join other leagues until training camps begin after Christmas. The headliner is Pats wunderkind Connor Bedard, who’s getting a head start on his junior career with HV71 in Sweden.

The 15-year-old centre headed overseas in September for training purposes but — when the WHL’s start date was pushed back from Dec. 4 to Jan. 8 — Bedard’s representatives at Newport Sports Management arranged for him to play games before returning home in December.

“Basically things opened up when the Western Hockey League wasn’t going to be playing for a longer period of time,” explained Pats GM John Paddock, who noted that Winnipeg Ice defenceman Carson Lambos — a top prospect for the 2021 NHL draft — is currently in Finland.

“It’s an option they had that you couldn’t say no to in the end, but it wasn’t that way with Connor. Him and his family have been very respectful of everything. We were fine with it.”

Bedard was held scoreless in his debut last week but notched a goal and an assist in his second game with HV71’s under-20 team. He matched that output in a subsequent outing with the club’s under-18 squad while recording nine shots on goal.

“He has played good to really good,” Paddock said. “I watched the first two periods of the first game and (head coach Dave Struch) watched the last two games.

“I think it’s great preparation (for his first season in Regina). It’s a really good thing for him and a really good thing for us.”

The WHL and Hockey Canada signed off on Bedard’s short-term loan to HV71. He could theoretically decide to remain in Sweden, but Paddock said there’s “zero chance” of that happening.

“There is complete trust between the player and the team,” he said. “And the agent group is rock solid as well.”

While Bedard was doing his thing in Sweden, the WHL announced Friday that it would grant “temporary transfers” for roster players to dress at lower levels, including junior A, junior B and under-18 (midget AAA).

The Pats have a handful of players who’ve inquired about the possibility.

So far, Zack Smith has agreed to join the SJHL’s Melfort Mustangs while Carter Massier is believed to be exploring an opportunity with the Melville Millionaires.

“I don’t have a problem with it either way,” said Paddock, who believes Massier in particular stands to benefit after missing almost all of last season with a shoulder injury. “By January he won’t have played any games for 14 months. That’s a long time and he was hurt some of the year before. I think it’s a very good idea.”

That’s not to say there aren’t concerns.

Paddock’s initial “defence mechanism” was to worry about injuries, but he also noted that players can just as easily hurt themselves during competitive on-ice training sessions.

“Anybody can get a slap shot off the ankle or, heaven forbid, get whacked around the neck or head area; that’s just the way it is,” he said. “We can’t stop them from going. You tell them the pluses and negatives and they can choose.”

When it’s all said and done, Paddock understands their desire to play.

“For sure,” he added. “I don’t think there’s any question they’re anxious (after a long layoff) … but that’s probably the least of the reasons to go. (Better ones are) trying to fine-tune your game or get up to speed and get in game situations. That’s a valid reason and even more so for guys like (Massier).

“It’s hard to justify saying no, even if you could say no, because it has been a long time and they want to play hockey.”

NOTE: Medicine Hat Tigers centre Cole Sillinger, who’s from Regina, received an ‘A’ grade (first round) on the Central Scouting “players to watch” list for the 2021 NHL draft. Pats forward Drew Englot received a ‘C’ grade (Rounds 4-7).

gharder@postmedia.com

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