On Monday night before Game Three of the Pacific Division Final was played between the Golden Knights and Oilers, ESPN aired the 2023 NHL Draft Lottery.
There were no real surprises until the final three teams. In a gaffe, Kevin Weekes accidentally spoiled the final two by indicating that the Blue Jackets would have the third pick before NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly had revealed it. ESPN then went to commercial.
By then, everyone knew who had won the lottery. It was pretty obvious when Daly revealed the Canadiens with pick five and then the Sharks with pick four. After they returned, it was revealed that the Blackhawks had won the Connor Bedard lottery. While GM Kyle Davidson celebrated, most hockey fans took their frustrations to social media. That even included veteran New York Post columnist Larry Brooks.
Brooks was referring to how the Blackhawks covered up former player Kyle Beach being sexually assaulted by the team video coach as far back as 2010 when they won the Stanley Cup. The organization covered up the scandal with even coach Joel Quenneville involved. He’s currently on suspension by the league after resigning as coach of the Panthers during 2021-22.
Following an investigation into the scandal, the Blackhawks organization was fined $2 million for inadequate internal procedures and insufficient and untimely response. The Blackhawks reached a settlement with Beach.
The astonishing aspect is that despite a cover-up of something despicable that also involved a 16-year-old unnamed teenager who was also sexually assaulted by former video coach Brad Aldrich, the league never took away any draft picks from the Blackhawks. They got off light.
By comparison, the Coyotes were stripped of two picks, including a 2020 second round pick and a 2021 first round pick for violating the NHL’s combine testing policy.
It was over a decade ago that the league ruled that the Devils signed Ilya Kovalchuk to an illegal contract. Even after revising it, they were hit with a $3 million fine. Originally, commissioner Gary Bettman took away a first round pick. It was returned to the Devils, but only as the final pick of the first round.
On top of that, the Blackhawks fielded some of the most uncompetitive lineups during the 2022-23 season. Even with Patrick Kane, before he was traded to the Rangers, there were select games where you wondered if they were an AHL team. The tanking was obvious. Especially with a generational player available.
Connor Bedard is one of the best prospects in recent memory. The teenage sensation followed up a 100-point season as a 16-year-old with a remarkable 22-23 where he led the Western Hockey League (WHL) with 71 goals, 72 assists, and 143 points in 57 games for the Regina Pats.
Having already led Canada to a second consecutive gold medal at the Under 20 World Junior Championships by pacing all skaters with 23 points (9-14-23), the high-scoring center put up 10 goals and 10 assists for a remarkable 20 points in the Pats’ seven-game first round series loss to the Saskatoon Blades.
With the 17-year-old Bedard the consensus top pick in this year’s NHL Draft, the Blackhawks can speed up their rebuild in lightning fashion. Although the North Vancouver, British Columbia native isn’t the biggest in stature with him listed at 5-10, 185 pounds, he’s a superb skater who can do things with the puck that most other players can’t. Possessing great speed along with a tremendous shot, Bedard can find openings very quickly. He has great vision, combining all the instincts to become a franchise player.
If Bedard is the gold standard of the upcoming 2023 NHL Draft, recent Hobey Baker winner Adam Fantilli has the tools to become a dominant power forward. In his freshman year at the University of Michigan, he led all college players in goals (30) and points (65) to win the Hobey Baker Award. He played a key role in helping Canada repeat at the WJC. Fantilli tallied two goals with three assists for five points. At 6-2, 187, he has the potential to become a big goalscorer. He is expected to go number two to the Ducks.
The top five will have the Blackhawks, Ducks, Blue Jackets, Sharks, and Canadiens picking. The first round is set for Wednesday, June 28, in Nashville at Bridgestone Arena. Rounds 2-7 are Thursday, June 29. ESPN will air Round One with coverage starting at 7 PM. NHL Network has the rest of the draft from 11 AM until its conclusion.
Other key prospects who should go high are Matvei Michkov, Leo Carlsson, Will Smith, Matthew Wood, and Ryan Leonard.
It’s a deep draft. The Rangers held onto their first round pick. They only have three more picks, including one in the third round and two in the sixth round.