NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Chicago Blackhawks made the obvious official Wednesday night, selecting Regina Pats center Connor Bedard with the first overall pick in the 2023 NHL draft.
Bedard, 17, has been called a generational talent thanks to his shooting ability and puck possession skills. The North Vancouver native was the most hyped prospect since Connor McDavid was drafted first overall by the Edmonton Oilers in 2015.
"It's incredible. I can't it put into words," Bedard said in his Wednesday news conference. "Growing up, they were going on their runs, winning [Stanley] Cups. You see the United Center going crazy and all of Chicago getting behind them. I'm so happy to part of the Blackhawks organization."
Chicago earned the right to select Bedard after winning the 2023 NHL draft lottery, despite having only the third-best odds to win the No. 1 pick this year at 11.5%. The Blackhawks last selected first overall in 2007, when they took winger Patrick Kane.
Bedard was granted exceptional status as a 15-year-old to play in the Western Hockey League, the first time the WHL granted such an exception. This year, he was the inaugural winner of the IIHF Male Player of the Year Award, leading Canada to the gold medal at the World Junior Championship with a tournament-best 23 points (nine goals, 14 assists) in January. He swept the player of the year, top prospect and top scorer awards at the Canadian Hockey League awards after recording 143 points (71 goals, 72 assists) in 52 games for the Pats.
"We'll see. We'll let him figure that out," Blackhawks general manager Kyle Davidson said, when asked about his expectations for Bedard. "He's a pretty special player, a very special person. We'll let him determine how special that first season is."
Bedard's arrival signals a new era for the Blackhawks, who completed a run of three Stanley Cups in six years in 2015. He joins a team that finished with a .360 points percentage in the standings, the worst season for Chicago since 2003-04. Kane was traded to the New York Rangers. The team parted ways with captain Jonathan Toews, an unrestricted free agent, as well.
"First of all, I want to make the team. That's the No. 1 goal. I want to have an impact on the ice and in the room, to be a teammate and give my all every day. Those are some things I can control," Bedard said before the draft Tuesday in Nashville.
The Blackhawks started building around Bedard earlier in the week when they acquired winger Taylor Hall from the Boston Bruins. "He won a Hart Trophy. He's had a great career, his talent level is remarkable. Fun player to watch, for sure," Bedard said.
Even with a phenom like Bedard, it could be a multiyear process for Chicago to return to prominence. It took Alex Ovechkin three years to bring the Washington Capitals to the playoffs after being selected first overall in 2004. It took Jack Hughes of the New Jersey Devils four years after going first overall in 2019.
"Listen, it doesn't need to necessarily have to happen right away, whether that's team success or individual success," said Tampa Bay Lightning captain Steven Stamkos, the first overall pick in 2008. "I think he's going into a little bit of a different situation in Chicago, where they've kind of embraced the rebuild and it's obviously one of the best hockey markets in the world. It was maybe a little easier for me to go to Tampa and not have as much pressure."
Stamkos said his advice to Bedard is to understand the leap he's about to make.
"It's the best league in the world and now you're competing against guys who are bigger and stronger and more experienced. So I don't think he's going to have any problem adjusting, but if he does, just enjoy the moment. It goes by fast," he said.
At No. 19 overall, the Blackhawks selected another center, Oliver Moore from the U.S. National Development Program.
Moore wasn't a top line forward for the USNDP, but his speed allowed him to be a dynamic presence. The way he can accelerate, enter the zone and get a shot off with enviable speed is what makes Moore a special prospect, one who had 26 goals and 64 points last season.