NASHVILLE, Tenn.—Tues Chicago Blackhawks made the obvious official Wednesday night, selecting Regina Pats center Connor Bedard as the first overall pick in the 2023 NHL draft.
17-year-old Bedard is described as a generational talent for his shooting skills and puck possession skills. The North Vancouver native has been the most hyped contestant ever since Connor McDavid was overall first designed by the Edmonton Oilers in 2015.
“It’s incredible. I can’t put it into words,” Bedard said in his press conference on Wednesday. “Growing up, they made their runs and won [Stanley] Cups. They see the United Center going crazy and the whole of Chicago behind them. I’m so happy to be a part of the Blackhawks organization.
Chicago earned the right to pick Bedard after winning the 2023 NHL draft lottery, despite having only the third-best odds of winning the No. 1 that year at 11.5%. The Blackhawks last picked first overall in 2007 when they became a winger Patrick Kane.
As a 15-year-old, Bedard received exemption status to play in the Western Hockey League, the first time the WHL had granted such an exemption. That year he was the inaugural winner of the IIHF Male Player of the Year Award and led Canada to a gold medal at the World Junior Championships in January with a best 23 points (nine goals, 14 assists) of the tournament. He won Player of the Year, Best Young Player, and Top Goalscorer at the Canadian Hockey League awards after scoring 143 points (71 goals, 72 assists) in 52 games for the Pats.
“We will see. We’ll let him find out,” Blackhawks general manager Kyle Davidson said when asked about his expectations for Bedard. “He’s a very special player, a very special person. We let him dictate how special this first season is.”
Bedard’s arrival signals a new era for the Blackhawks, who completed a six-year streak of three Stanley Cups in 2015. He joins a team that finished with a .360 point standings percentage, the worst season for Chicago since 2003-04. Kane became New York Rangers. The crew separated from the captain Jonathan Toewsalso an unrestricted free agent.
“First and foremost, I want to make the team. That’s goal #1. I want to make a difference on the ice and in space, be a teammate and do my best every day. Those are some things I can do. “Control,” Bedard said ahead of Tuesday’s draft in Nashville.
The Blackhawks began building around Bedard earlier in the week when they got a winger Taylor Hall of the Boston Bruins. “He won a Hart Trophy. He’s had a great career, his level of talent is remarkable. It’s definitely fun to watch this player,” said Bedard.
Even with a phenomenon like Bedard, it could be a multi-year process for Chicago to regain prominence. It took Alex Ovechkin three years to bring that Washington Capitals to the playoffs after being selected first overall in 2004. I took a while Jack Hughes of New Jersey Devils four years after the first overall win in 2019.
“Look, it doesn’t necessarily have to be immediate, whether it’s a team win or an individual win,” he said Tampa Bay Lightning captain Steven Stamkosthe first overall pick in 2008. “I think he’s in a little different situation in Chicago where they kind of embraced the rebuild and it’s obviously one of the best hockey markets in the world. It was maybe a little bit easier for me to go to Tampa and not have as much pressure.”
Stamkos said his advice to Bedard is to understand the jump he’s about to make.
“It’s the best league in the world and now you’re up against guys that are bigger, stronger and more experienced. So I don’t think he’ll have trouble adapting, but if he does, just enjoy the moment. It’ll pass quickly,” he said.
Ranked 19th overall, the Blackhawks picked another center, Oliver Moore of the US National Development Program.
Moore wasn’t a top USNDP striker, but his speed allowed him to be a dynamic presence. The way he can accelerate, get into the zone and fire a shot with enviable speed makes Moore a special youngster, scoring 26 goals and 64 points last season.