SECAUCUS, N.J. (AP) — The Chicago Blackhawks won the NHL draft lottery Monday night and with it the right to select Connor Bedard with the first pick, parlaying one of their worst seasons in decades into a potentially franchise-altering player.
It’s the second time the Blackhawks have won the lottery in the past two decades, and the previous victory in 2007 netted them Patrick Kane, who helped them win the Stanley Cup three times between 2010 and 2015. Bedard can now step into the void filled by the departures of Kane and longtime captain Jonathan Toews and become the new face of the Original Six organization currently in the midst of a full-scale rebuild.
Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly unveiled a placard featuring the Blackhawks logo at 8:22 p.m. EDT, signifying they had gotten the No. 1 pick and setting off a wild celebration among fans at a watch party. Chicago had the third-highest odds of winning the lottery at 11.5%, behind Anaheim’s 25.5% and Columbus’ 13.5%.
“I think I just said, ‘Wow’ because you understand the impact that a first overall pick can have — and having a first overall pick in the right year,” Blackhawks general manager Kyle Davidson said at a news conference in Chicago. “Hopefully that’s what we’ve got here. It can change a franchise, it can change a city and it can change an era in a team’s history. There’s a lot of weight to that and lot of significance to that.”
League-worst Anaheim won the lottery for the second pick and will get to choose among a trio of talented forwards: Canadian Adam Fantilli, Russian Matvei Michkov and Swede Leo Carlsson.
Ducks GM Pat Verbeek was waiting for Daly to “turn the card.”
“Let’s kill the suspense here and get after it,” Verbeek said on a Zoom call. “So they turned the card, and we ended up picking 2. I’m excited.”
Columbus is set to pick third, continuing the Blue Jackets’ run of lottery losing. GM Jarmo Kekalainen said an on-air slip up revealing his team was picking third “spoiled the moment.”
“We’re going to get a great player at 3, there’s no question about it in my mind,” Kekalainen said on a video call with reporters. “Everyone wants to win the lottery, then everything is your control, and obviously everybody’s talked about a special player at the top of the rankings. But we’re confident that we’re going to get a big difference maker at 3.”
Bedard has been the presumptive top pick in the 2023 draft for several years, considered the best prospect available since Connor McDavid eight years ago and making this lottery nearly as anticipated as that or the drawing in 2005 for Sidney Crosby.
Bedard, a native of North Vancouver, British Columbia, led all junior players across Canada with 72 goals and 143 points this past season while playing for the Regina Pats of the Western Hockey League. He doesn’t turn 18 until July.
In a pre-taped TV interview that aired on ESPN, Bedard said of his future being determined: “There’s different emotions watching, but I think we’re all just watching as fans. … It’s more for the teams.”
The Blackhawks decided last year to bottom out and plunge into a long-term rebuilding process, trading star forwards Alex DeBrincat and Kirby Dach despite each being under 25. The strategy worked: Chicago lost 56 of 82 games to set up a chance at Bedard.
They’ll get to announce Bedard’s name at the start of the draft June 28 in Nashville, Tennessee.
AP freelance writer Matt Carlson in Chicago contributed.
Stephen Whyno, The Associated Press