Greg WochinskyESPN4 minutes to read
NASHVILLE, Tennessee — The Chicago Blackhawks made an official clear Wednesday night, selecting Regina Pats center Conor Bedard with the first overall pick in the 2023 NHL Draft.
Bedard, 17, is known as a generational talent thanks to his striking and possession skills. The North Vancouver native has been the hottest prospect since Conor McDavid was drafted first overall by the Edmonton Oilers in 2015.
“First of all, I want to make the team. That’s Goal No. 1. I want to have an impact on the ice and in the room. To be a teammate and do my best every day. These are some things I can control,” Bedard said before the draft.
Chicago earned the right to pick Bedard after winning the 2023 NHL Lottery draft, despite having the third best odds of winning the No. 1 pick this year at 11.5%. The Blackhawks were selected first overall in 2007, when winger Patrick Kane took over.
Bedard was granted exceptional status as a 15-year-old to play in the Western Hockey League, the first time the WHL had granted such an exception. This year, he was the inaugural winner of the IIHF Player of the Year award, leading Canada to the gold medal at the World Junior Championships with a tournament-best 23 points (nine goals, 14 assists) in January. He swept the Canadian Hockey League’s Player of the Year and Top Scorer awards after scoring 143 points (71 goals and 72 assists) in 52 games for the Pats.
Bedard’s arrival signals a new era for the Blackhawks, who completed a streak of three Stanley Cups in six years in 2015. He joins a team that finished by 0.360 points in the standings, Chicago’s worst season since 2003-04. Kane was traded to the New York Rangers. The team parted ways with Captain Jonathan Toews, also an unrestricted free agent.
The Blackhawks began building around Bédard earlier in the week when they acquired winger Taylor Hall from the Boston Bruins. “He won the Hart Trophy. His career has been amazing, his talent level is fantastic. Definitely an interesting player,” Bedard said.
Even with a phenomenon like Bédard, it could take several years for Chicago to get back on top. It took Alex Ovechkin three years to bring the Washington Capitals to the playoffs after being a first-timer in 2004. It took Jack Hughes of the New Jersey Devils four years after being a first-timer in 2019.
“Listen, it doesn’t necessarily have to happen right away, whether it’s team success or individual success,” said Stephen Stamkos, captain of the Tampa Bay Lightning’s first overall pick in 2008. A different situation in Chicago, where they’ve kind of embraced a rebuild and obviously one of the best hockey markets in the world. It might have been easier for me to go to Tampa and not have as much pressure.”
Stamkos said his advice to Bedard was to understand the jump he was about to make.
“It’s the best league in the world and now you’re up against bigger, stronger, more experienced players. So I don’t think he’ll have any problem adapting, but if he does, enjoy the moment. It goes by quickly.”