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Island prodigy and Royals draft pick first player granted exceptional status by BCHL

Eli McKamey will play next season for the Penticton Vees
Eli McKamey played this past season for the Shawnigan Lake U-18 team. He'll join the Penticton Vees in September. BCHL

He is described as a prodigy with a capital ‘P.’

Eli McKamey from Cowichan Bay has made history by becoming the first player to be granted exceptional status to play in the junior B.C. Hockey League as a 15-year-old.

The Island prodigy, pencilled in near the top of every early board for the 2027 NHL draft, will suit up next season for the Penticton Vees. It could be a one-year thing or several seasons if the talented centre decides he will go the U.S. NCAA route. Most scouts considered him a lock to be a top-three pick in this month’s major-junior Western Hockey League prospects draft if not for that uncertainty.

The home-Island Victoria Royals still took a chance and selected McKamey in the second round, 35th overall, in the 2024 WHL draft. (Defenceman Landon DuPont, only the second player to be granted exceptional status by the WHL after Connor Bedard, went first overall to Everett and defenceman Brock Cripps from Victoria second overall to Prince Albert).

“Playing in the BCHL allows me to keep my future options open, while still playing in a highly competitive league,” McKamey said in a statement.

“I’m excited for the challenge.”

McKamey will keep everyone guessing for at least the 2024-25 season with the Vees. Adding to the intrigue is the decision made by another highly touted Island player. Many scouts had forward Noah Kosick of Victoria tabbed as the No. 1 talent for the 2023 WHL prospects draft but he slid to 11th overall, taken by the Calgary Hitmen, because Kosick, too, let it be known he was deciding between the WHL and NCAA. The Hitmen gambled and lost as Kosick announced in March that he has committed to the University of Michigan Wolverines and will play this season with the Sherwood Park Crusaders of the BCHL’s Alberta Division.

The Royals can only wait and see how their high-stakes gamble with McKamey turns out.

“Teams were aware that Eli will be continuing to keep his options open going into the WHL draft and that conversation hasn’t changed,” said Royals GM Jake Heisinger.

“Taking into consideration all factors, our group felt very comfortable selecting Eli and are excited to have these conversations about a local Island player with his type of potential. Eli is a very talented player whose work ethic and maturity [is] exemplary. We have open communication with Eli, his family and their representation.”

Heisinger agreed McKamey would have gone high in the WHL draft if he had committed to the league: “We do our homework on all players we select, including many conversations with the player and the family. If Eli was ready to commit to playing in the WHL prior to the draft, he would have been a top pick.”

The BCHL governors only voted in January to allow an exceptional-status process.

The five-foot-10, 176-pound McKamey turned 15 in January and had 23 goals and 48 points in 28 regular-season games and four goals and seven points in three playoff games this past season skating against players three years older on the Shawnigan Lake School U-18 team.

“This is an exciting moment for the BCHL and obviously our organization. Eli McKamey is an exceptional talent that was rated as the number one forward for the past WHL draft,” Vees’ head coach, GM and president Fred Harbinson said in a statement.

“Eli will be the next young elite player to wear a Vees jersey … en route to college and the NHL.”