CALGARY – It’s not often that a 14-year-old can keep up with, let alone dominate, an 18-year-old.
But that’s exactly what Landon DuPont is doing.
Just a year after learning contact hockey, DuPont is putting together the type of season with Edge School’s U18 team that will most likely place him in elite company.
Should the slick-skating defenseman decide to go the Western Hockey League route, there is little doubt he will be the first overall pick this spring and, at 15, become the second player ever granted exempt status who plays in the league.
The only other one was Connor Bedard.
He joined John Tavares, Aaron Ekblad, Connor McDavid, Sean Day, Joe Veleno and Shane Wright as the only eight in CHL history to receive this honor.
“I just try not to think about it too much and try to play my game and have fun,” said the talented Calgarian, who has not yet decided on the junior or NCAA route.
“I’m just keeping my options open.”
Edge coach James Poole is under no illusions that his leading scorer will be back next season, as he is already his team’s best player and one of the best in his league.
Did we mention he’s in 9th grade?
“Obviously he’s a budding superstar, and he’s insane,” said Poole, who coached Midget AAA and Junior A for 15 years and emphasized he’s never seen a better 14-year-old.
“When I was 14 I had the opportunity to see Bedard.
“Landon is special. A defender who does what he does and how much the game revolves around him is very special.
“I think the skating is first, and he reads the game just a few plays before anyone else.
“Cale Makar comes to mind when I see how much the game revolves around him.
“Everyone likes to say he’s Cale Makar, but I think we’ve got the real deal here who actually plays and can actually take over a game like him.”
Poole would have no argument against granting DuPont exceptional status, intended only for particularly talented and mature minors whose further development is more likely to be significantly enhanced by playing in the CHL.
“If he chooses to go that route, he deserves to be one of those special players who can do that,” said Poole, whose school has produced a long line of NHL defensemen including Brandon Montour, Tyler Myers and Matt Dumba, Jake Bean and Thomas Hickey.
“I think he’s capable of making that adjustment next year and playing as a 15-year-old.”
DuPont admits he wondered how he would adjust to playing with kids four years older than him, but he quickly proved he belonged.
He leads the team by a wide margin with 13 goals and 33 points in 16 games, including a point in each game and four game winners.
He is in ninth place in the league standings, although all the players in front of him are much older.
“It’s cool to see all these older guys and see where I fit in,” said the 5-foot-10, 150-pound blue liner, who won’t turn 15 until the end of May.
“I feel like I’m okay and I’m physically with them.
“Obviously it’s a big jump, but I think I’m handling it pretty well.”
As his play at the Circle K Classic U18 tournament this week shows, he finds himself in the crosshairs of every team he plays, but always bounces back from hit after hit.
“Of course you take a few hard hits, but when you get home you jump in an ice bath and do it again tomorrow,” he beamed.
DuPont is the son of Micki DuPont, a late draft pick of the Flames in 2000, an undersized defenseman who played a few dozen NHL games before finding success overseas.
Dad has coached his son most of his life and has done an outstanding job of keeping his son humble and grounded while helping him develop into a talent this city hasn’t seen since Makar.
“He’s great, my dad always gives me advice on how to be a better player and a better person off the ice,” said DuPont, a right defenseman.
“I’m super thankful and grateful for him.”
“Give his dad some credit, he played hockey,” Poole smiled.
“Landon was a rink rat who spent a lot of time at the rink.
“He gets it. At 14 years old, he behaves like a pro, which is special. And he doesn’t demand any special treatment, which is also something special. He just wants to be one of 20.
“As a coach, it’s kind of refreshing when you get such a special kid and he doesn’t bring any attitude with him.”
True to form, DuPont describes himself as an offensive defenseman “who skates well” – a massive understatement for a player who often becomes the central figure on the ice on both sides.
“Even though it seems like he’s going a million miles an hour, he thinks it’s slower than everyone else – the game is slowing down for him,” Poole said.
“For all his offensive instincts and the aggressiveness he plays, he is rarely on the wrong side of the puck, and when he is, he can make up for it pretty quickly.
“And he has a great bat.
“He is a player you can use in any situation.
“It’s nice to have a man who not only does a lot offensively, but is also reliable on defense.”
A bit like DuPont’s two favorite players.
“Quinn Hughes is my idol and I also really like Cale Makar,” DuPont said.
“I watch their games and their clips and try to do that myself on the ice.
“Both have incredible edge work and are both two-pronged D-men who think heads-up and always make the right play.”
Sounds a lot like Western Canada’s next young sensation.