Last month, the NHL Draft Lottery settled the drama regarding who would receive the first overall pick in the 2023 NHL Draft. The Chicago Blackhawks were the lucky winners, and on Wednesday, they selected Connor Bedard from the Regina Pats. The North Vancouver product put on the Blackhawks jersey for the first time during the draft in Nashville.
Bedard has been considered the top candidate for the first overall pick in this year’s draft since he was granted exceptional status for the Western Hockey League Draft in 2020. He was later selected by the Pats as the first overall pick.
Since being taken by the Pats, the North Vancouver product enjoyed a successful three-year stint in Regina.
His rookie campaign was restricted to the bubble inside of the Brandt Centre during the shortened season during 2021 where he picked up 28 points (12G-16A) over 15 games.
In his second season (2021-22) , Bedard had 100 points (51G-49A) in 62 games.
The Pats captain saved his best campaign in what will likely be his last season in Regina in 2022-23, leading the WHL in Goals (71) and Points (143). After failing to record a point in the team’s first game of the season, he would record at least a point in the next 35 games.
Bedard led the Pats into a first matchup with the Saskatoon Blades, collecting 20 points (10G-10A) in the seven-game series.
After the season ended, the 17-year-old received recognition for his efforts. He collected the Bob Clarke Trophy for the most amount of points during the regular season and was named the Four Broncos Memorial Trophy Winner for the league’s Player of the Year. Bedard was later named the CHL Top Prospect of the Year and CHL Player of the Year. On Monday, he received the E.J. McGuire Award of Excellence, an award given to a prospect who best exemplifies commitment to excellence through strength of character, competitiveness and athleticism.
This is the third time the Regina Pats had a player selected with the first overall pick in the NHL Draft. In 1974, Greg Joly was selected by the Washington Capitals and then in 1980, the Montreal Canadiens picked Doug Wickenheiser. The last time a player from the WHL was taken at the top of the NHL Draft was in 2011 when the Edmonton Oilers took Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.
Along with his efforts with the Pats, Bedard led Canada to a pair of Gold Medals (2022,2023). He would go on to break the Canadian record for all-time points at the tournament in Halifax this past year, where he collected 23 points (9G-14A). Earlier this month, the Pats forward was named the IIHF Player of the Year.
Chicago finished with the third-worst record during the 2022-23 NHL regular season with 59 points but leapfrogged over Columbus and Anaheim for the first overall selection after winning the draft lottery in May.
The Blackhawks began their retooling for the upcoming season ahead of the selection of Bedard. Earlier this week, they acquired former first-overall pick, Taylor Hall and Nick Foligno from the Boston Bruins in a multi-player trade.
This past winter, during the second half of the WHL regular season, once Bedard returned from Halifax, the Regina Pats became the hottest ticket in Western Canada, selling out the Brandt Centre and rinks across the league. On February 1, the Pats squared off against the Calgary Hitmen in front of 17,223 spectators at the Scotiabank Saddledome. In the final week of the regular season, Bedard and the Pats attracted the biggest crowds in Saskatoon Blades history at SaskTel Centre with a pair of sold-out crowds of 14,768 fans.
Following the lottery draft victory, Chicago felt the effect of the “Bedard Bump” for the first time. It was reported the team sold $2.5 million worth of season ticket sales 24 hours after the Blackhawks won the draft lottery.
It should be a star-filled event for what will likely be Bedard’s first game in the NHL as the Blackhawks visit the Pittsburgh Penguins. Chicago will begin the season with a five-game road trip the first time Bedard will play in front of a home crowd at the United Center will be on October 21 when they host the defending Stanley Cup champion Vegas Golden Knights. He will return to a pair of the Alberta rinks he played in with the Pats in late January when Chicago visits Edmonton and the Oilers on Thursday, January 25 and the Calgary Flames on Saturday, January 27.
The last time the Blackhawks held the first overall pick in the NHL draft was back in 2007 when they selected Patrick Kane
Moose Jaw Warriors centre Brayden Yager was selected by the Pittsburgh Penguins with the 14th pick.
On Wednesday’s edition of the SportsCage, Michael Ball was joined by the Pat Assistant Coach Ken Schneider who was in Nashville to witness the big moment for Bedard and said during the lead up to the first pick that Bedard was relaxed.
“I don’t think he looks nervous, he’s out here on the red carpet a bit ago, he’s signing autographs and I think he’s taking in the moment in.”
“He’s shy, reserved, he doesn’t look to be in the limelight.”
Schneider continued “It comes with that responsibility, he (Bedard) takes it seriously, he just does a really great job, we’re really proud of him, we’re proud that we can say he’s a Regina Pat.”
It was an exciting moment for Bedard to hear his name called by Chicago as the first pick on Wednesday night.
“It still doesn’t feel real, to be honest,” he said. “It’s so crazy.”
“It’s an unbelievable feeling to be here with my family and friends, and get to hear my name be called and experience that, especially with such a storied organization,” Bedard said. “Very thankful (the Blackhawks) put their faith in me.”
“He wants to be great,” Chicago general manager Kyle Davidson said. “He takes nothing for granted. He’s humble … he just gets it. He’s going to put in the work to be as good he can be.
“That’s really exciting considering how good he already is.”
Mentioned in the same breath as previous generational talents, including Connor McDavid and Sidney Crosby, the North Vancouver, B.C., product joins a rebuilding team that parted ways with franchise icons and three-time Stanley Cup champions Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews in recent months.
“It’s incredible,” he said of following in their footsteps. “Growing up, that was when they were going on their runs, winning the Cups. You see the United Center going crazy and all of Chicago getting behind them — Original Six and so much history.”
The Blackhawks made a significant move in the days leading up to the draft to support Bedard’s transition to the NHL, acquiring veteran forwards Taylor Hall, the top pick in 2010 and the 2018 Hart Trophy winner as NHL MVP, and Nick Foligno from the Boston Bruins.
“Those two guys have been through been through everything,” Bedard said. “For me to get to learn from them … it’s awesome.”
With files from the Canadian Press