NHL Draft Lottery: Blackhawks' win has Connor Bedard working with a blank slate
No team in a position to grab the first overall pick is stocked with blue-chip NHL talent, but the Chicago roster Bedard will be joining is especially barren.
When the Chicago Blackhawks won the NHL Draft Lottery on Monday night, the franchise's outlook was turned on its head.
That's because presumptive first-overall pick Connor Bedard is widely considered to be the best prospect to enter the NHL since Connor McDavid. It'll be some time before we know if he lives up to that billing, but he has the potential to shape the Blackhawks in his image for years to come.
Getting to pick Bedard is clearly a great outcome for the Blackhawks — and an uncomfortable one for those who don't want to see Chicago rewarded in the aftermath of the Kyle Beach sexual assault scandal.
But how does the situation look for Bedard himself?
The gifted centre couldn't have expected to land with a contender as the first-overall pick, but he had a chance to play with Johnny Gaudreau and Patrik Laine in Columbus or Trevor Zegras in Anaheim.
Instead, he will start his pro career leading a team that is extremely low on NHL-calibre talent. Here's a rundown of Bedard's predicament.
What does the Blackhawks roster look like?
Euphemistically, you might say incomplete. Realistically, a better adjective would be dreadful.
In the 2022-23 season, the Blackhawks' leading scorer, Max Domi, had just 49 points. Chicago had 11 players clear the low bar of 20 points, and five of them are under contract for 2023-24.
The Blackhawks' most accomplished forward is Tyler Johnson, who hasn't been a reliable offensive threat since 2018-19. If the 2023-24 regular season started tomorrow, there's a good chance Jason Dickinson — a winger who hasn't cracked 10 goals in any of his eight NHL seasons — would be on the first line.
Things are just as grim on defense, where the team has brothers Seth Jones and Caleb Jones as a functional first pair. The depth behind them is not impressive outside of reliable veteran Connor Murphy, who probably isn't long for this squad.
If Bedard is looking for a silver lining, there's a ton of money coming of the books for this team, leaving it with $41.8 million in projected cap space for next season. Chicago may not find it productive to spend all that money, but with few noteworthy internal RFAs to extend this club has the latitude to give out a free-agent contract or two.
The Blackhawks could look at top-six wingers under 30 who'd make Bedard's life a little easier — and capitalize on the opportunities he creates— like Ivan Barbashev, Michael Bunting or Tyler Bertuzzi. A healthy contract and the chance to play with a game changer could make Chicago surprisingly enticing despite its limited short-term competitive prospects.
The more success the team has with Bedard, the more likely it is to lure in bigger fish in the years to come.
What about the prospect pipeline?
The general consensus seems to be that the Blackhawks have one of the NHL's stronger farm systems. The Athletic ranked the team's prospect pool as the league's fifth-best earlier this year, and The Hockey Writers slotted it in at 10th.
Chicago has a few players who may be ready to make an impact in the near future, like winger Lukas Reichel, who's been approximately a point-per-game player at the AHL level for the last two years, as well as Swedish netminder Arvid Söderblom.
Perhaps the team's best prospect outside of Bedard, defenseman Kevin Korchinski, could also be in the mix next year in his age-19 season.
There is plenty of reason for optimism with the team's existing group of prospects. Chicago should also be able to build out its farm system further thanks to its massive war chest of picks in the top three rounds over the next three years.
This stockpile of draft capital won't have an impact on Bedard's Blackhawks tenure immediately, but if used wisely it could help Chicago build a sustainable winner.
How does the situation compare to the other recent generational talents?
When it comes to hype entering the NHL, there are only two recent prospects that compare to Bedard: Connor McDavid and Sidney Crosby.
That doesn't mean that he'll play up to the level of those two era-defining players. A standard like that is extremely difficult to meet. However, the 17-year-old is expecting to have a franchise changing impact.
It's worth taking a closer look at where the situation those two mega-prospects-turned-superstars landed in to see if they needed a far cozier situation than Bedard to take off.
When McDavid arrived on the Oilers, they were struggling, but not without talent. The team had three former first overall picks under the age of 25 in Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, and Nail Yakupov.
While Yakupov was a bust, the other two were top-line calibre players, and the forward group also included an emerging Jordan Eberle and one Leon Draisaitl, who started to flash elite skills in his second season.
McDavid's most common linemates as a rookie were Benoit Pouliot and Eberle, followed by Pouliot and Yakupov, then Eberle and Pat Maroon. That's not an all-star cast by any means, but Eberle had been the team's leading scorer the previous year — and both Pouliot and Maroon were both solid middle-six forwards at the time.
The team's defense corps was unimpressive, but the Oilers had a competent new coach behind the bench in Todd McLellan and a trustworthy veteran between the pipes in Cam Talbot.
Edmonton was not an impressive outfit in McDavid's rookie season, but the team was respectable. The Oilers made the playoffs the next year in 2016-17. It would be a stretch to say McDavid landed in a perfect situation, but things could have been worse.
Crosby joined a Pittsburgh Penguins team that was full of big-name players. The 2005-06 Pens roster included Mario Lemieux, Mark Recchi, John LeClair, and Žigmund Pálffy — with the latter trio coming via a free-agent spending spree.
The idea of surrounding Crosby with veteran talent made some sense in theory, but the wingers Pittsburgh loaded up on had a combined age of 106. Recchi and LeClair were fine, but neither performed to their career standards and Pálffy had to retire midseason due to injury. Meanwhile, Lemieux played his last NHL game on December 16.
So, the plan of to create a stable ecosystem for Crosby to thrive in fell apart in short order.
That didn't prevent Sid the Kid from putting up 102 points in his rookie season — 44 more than any other Penguin. Even with Crosby giving that Herculean effort, Pittsburgh's record was just 24-46-14 thanks to its thin roster.
The situation the Penguins' franchise player walked into, where he was surrounded by elder statesman, is probably better than what Bedard will be dealing with. But by midseason, Crosby was running low on support.
His case is informative because it serves as a reminder that no matter how good Bedard is out of the gate with Chicago, wins are likely to prove illusive for the Blackhawks next season.