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DuPont becomes first WHL defenceman granted exceptional status


Landon DuPont has been granted exceptional status and will be eligible to play in the Western Hockey League as a 15-year-old next season.

The 14-year-old Calgary native is the first defenceman and second player in WHL history to have been granted the status by Hockey Canada, joining Chicago Blackhawks star Connor Bedard, who took the step in 2020.

Bedard texted DuPont on Monday morning to congratulate him, leaving DuPont star-struck.

"I almost blacked out," DuPont said at a news conference in Calgary . "He’s been such a role model for me and so many others…he just told me to keep having fun."

DuPont has 62 points in 30 games with the Edge Prep School in Calgary this season. His father, Micki, was a late-round pick of the Flames in 2000 and scored once in 23 career NHL games before playing over a decade in Europe.

DuPont said he patterns his game after puck-moving blueliners who defend with their feet and can control games. 

"I like to model my game after Rasmus Dahlin, Quinn Hughes, and Cale Makar," he said. "[With Makar], just his skating ability, his hockey IQ, and the way he can run a PK but can also a power play…a defenceman that helps his teammates play better and makes everyone around him better."

Bedard’s family has kept in touch with the DuPonts, and WHL commissioner Dan Near said the league will evolve in its approach to supporting the young blueliner.

Bedard was a huge draw and consistently sold out visiting rinks during his three seasons with the Regina Pats. There were also challenges that came with the increased attention from around the hockey world. Bedard had to deal with increased demands for autographs and pictures, requests from local businesses, and social media scrutiny.

"We’ve spent a lot of time talking about that and what the player experience is like on the road and the player experience going to school," Near said. "The Regina Pats are counselling us and giving us lots of feedback on some of what that experience was like and how it ramped up in certain moments…We are very mindful of creating an environment that’s not overwhelming or disruptive to Landon’s life as a young man."

DuPont is aware his life is about to change in the coming months as the scrutiny increases.

"I’m just going to try my best to ignore it and just try to have fun," he said.

Hockey Canada’s selection process for exceptional players is vigorous. Only eight other players in Canadian Hockey League history – including Connor McDavid, Aaron Ekblad, Shane Wright, and John Tavares – have been granted the designation, and the organization had less than a handful of applicants this season.

The process focuses on the player’s maturity and character off the ice. DuPont had to write two essays in two-and-a-half hours while supervised by an administrator and met with a psychologist. Hockey Canada also did a thorough reference check on him and met with him and his family on numerous occasions. 

"There's almost a background and reference check to speak with people around Landon, which includes people at school and other parts of the community and getting perspectives from them," said Hockey Canada senior vice-president Scott Salmond. 

"There is a written component too that happens in front of someone who evaluates. Landon does that on his own and under a little bit of pressure and then there's obviously a significant interview."

Hockey Canada is aware of the risk of granting exceptional status to a player who might not be ready for the pressure, expectation, and maturity it entails – even if prospective applicant has the on-ice skills to warrant consideration. 

"There's a great danger in putting a young man in a position with older athletes that they're not prepared for," Salmond said. "You don't always get it right from the hockey side, but it's probably more important to get it right from a maturity side."

DuPont was poised, confident, and humble in Monday's press conference. He spoke about how important it has been to focus on his love of the sport during such a pivotal time of his young career. 

"I just tried to not think about it," DuPont said of the process. "I just tried to worry about my season and have fun on the ice with my teammates."

The Everett Silvertips, who currently hold the No. 1 overall pick in the upcoming Prospects Draft, hosted him and his family in April. He's excited to embark on his next hockey chapter, which will be in an environment where the stakes will be that much higher and the lights that much brighter.

"[I'll] try to have fun and remember why I play hockey," he said. "I don't play it for the likes [on social media]…I play it to have fun with my friends and teammates."