June 28, 2023

The Connor Bedard era in Chicago officially underway

The worst kept secret in the National Hockey League was finally unveiled at the 2023 NHL Draft in Nashville, and it has Connor Bedard as, officially, a member of the Chicago Blackhawks.

Chicago won the NHL draft lottery on May 8 and were able to cash it in Wednesday, Bedard, of the Western Hockey League’s Regina Pats, at first overall.

“I think everyone’s seen how he’s handled himself in the lead-up to this draft,” Blackhawks general manager Kyle Davidson told media Wednesday. “Obviously, a lot of attention, but he’s shown a maturity beyond his years. He’s 17 years old, but you’d never know it based on how he’s handled things.”

Besides the extended amount of time it took the Blackhawks to submit the pick at the draft, there was no surprise Bedard was their selection as he entered the draft as the consensus No. 1 pick. Unlike the rest of the draft class whose jerseys had the number 23 to signify the 2023 draft, Bedard’s Blackhawks logo donned not only his name but his No. 98 he wore in Regina.

Bedard had 71 goals and 143 points in 57 games for the Pats, only missing time in the WHL lineup to play for Canada at the World Juniors, where he amassed nine goals and 23 points in seven games for gold.

The North Vancouver, British Columbia product ended the regular season with only five games where he didn’t register a point, and was named the Player of the Year in both the WHL and Canadian Hockey League and took home the inaugural IIHF’s Male Player of the Year award.

Davidson stuck to the NHL tradition and didn’t name his No. 1 pick prior to the draft, even though it was very obvious. Davidson did divulge some of his thoughts on Bedard a day before the draft.

Bedard’s draft day reaction

The often quiet and concise Bedard was taken on the media tour after being selected first overall. He spoke with the Sportsnet panel about his journey to the NHL and honouring his late grandfather at the draft.

“It’s been amazing, I think it was so big this morning I had a talk with my family about the journey we have been on together,” Bedard told Sportsnet. “It’s been so much fun and I have such a love and passion for the game and to be able to play it every day because of my family has been unbelievable.”

Bedard’s late grandfather Garth passed away in April of 2021 at the age of 73 from a car accident. Bedard and his grandfather were close and shared a strong relationship. He honoured that memory on draft night with a special poker chip memorializing all of the time they spent together playing cards when he was young.

“…just kind of having him with me on this day and I’m sure he’s watching,” Bedard said.

Inside the Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Bedard spoke about what it means to be selected by the Blackhawks.

“It’s an unbelievable feeling, being here with my family and friends, getting to hear my name be called and experience that especially from such a storied organization,” Bedard told media. “Everything I’ve heard about the city, the people there is nothing but positive, so I can’t wait for that. I’m very thankful that the staff, Kyle, Luke (Richardson), everyone put their faith in me with that pick.”

In a press conference outside of the in front of even more reporters, Bedard spoke about his time as a Pat and how much the city of Regina and its fans meant to him.

“It’s been unreal so far, I was drafted as a 14-year-old, a young kid, didn’t know what to expect,” Bedard said. “But the city, they take you in as one of their own and some of the kindest people I’ve ever met are there. The staff, the teammates and the friendships I’ve built there have been unbelievable and I’m so thankful for the past three years to play in Regina.”

Bedard became the fourth player in NHL history to be granted exceptional status from Hockey Canada and be selected first overall, joining John Tavares, Aaron Ekblad, and Connor McDavid.

In that same press conference, he spoke about his time in the WHL.

“It’s been so huge for me, so far the last three years have been everything I would have wanted from a developmental standpoint, it’s such a tough league,” Bedard said. “You’re going in every night and you’re challenging yourself and for me that was the biggest thing was playing against guys older than me, stronger, faster. It’s helped me so much and we’ve have such great coaches, such great staff there, so I’ve learned a lot.”

What our scouts say

FCHockey’s Donesh Mazloum has followed Bedard throughout his WHL career and says he has quickly become the premiere scorer at every level he’s played at.

“…part of what makes him so dangerous is his ability to read and react and create based on what is given to him,” Mazloum said. “His world class shot is such a singular talent that it would be enough to get excited about on its own, but the fact that his mind is also so naturally and instinctually geared towards scoring makes him a potentially generational goal-scorer at the NHL level.”

While his shot has been rightfully glorified ever since he broke out onto the hockey stage, Bedard has many talents on the ice that make him exceptional. FCHockey regional scout Joel Henderson says adaptability is the 17-year-old’s strongest asset.

“The reason Connor is so elite is because he can be a square peg, round peg, a triangle, an oval at the change of a dime. If you need him to just be the puck transport and neutral zone puck mover, he will do it with utter efficiency,” Henderson said. “If you want him to touch the puck and you just need him to be the one time shooter on the half ball, 100 percent. If you need him to switch and play more rugged defense, if you need him to care a little bit more about that, he can give you a bit more physicality and really use his skating to get in the way, he can do that.

What’s next for Bedard and the Blackhawks

There’s very little chance Bedard returns to the WHL next season, he will slot into the Chicago lineup and suit up on opening night against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

With the pick, Chicago gets their next franchise talent to market and build around. After winning three Stanley Cups in the 2010’s the Blackhawks have had a teardown over the last few seasons that saw the trades of franchise icons Johnathon Toews and Patrick Kane, who was their last first overall pick in 2007.

The Blackhawks have done the easy part with selecting Bedard, the rest comes with patience and building the right team around him. While there’s no about he will find early success in the NHL and projects to put up respectable numbers. The biggest questions will be, how quick does he find success and does he help them get back to the top of the hockey world Blackhawks fans become accustomed to.

Will things go as quick as they did for Kane and Toews, with a conference final in year two and the first of three Stanley Cups in year three? Or will it end up like it has for McDavid, with nightly unbelievable plays, incomprehensible stats and a truckload of individual trophies but only frustration and playoff exits on the team end.

There’s a long and exciting road ahead for both the Blackhawks and Bedard as they work to find out the answer to that question. Until that road meets its end, it’s time for both parties to enjoy the ride.

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