Connor Bedard is the top prospect for the 2023 draught, according to NHL Central Scouting, which has been clear for years, particularly since the World Junior Championship.
Bedard, who leads the midterm rankings, was named tournament MVP after scoring 23 points in seven games as Canada won gold for the second time in a row. The 5-10, 185-pound centre has nine goals and 14 points in his first three games back with the Regina (Saskatchewan) Pats.
Bedard, 17, has a league-high 78 points in 31 games after entering the Western Hockey League draught as a 15-year-old. Since being shut out in the opener, he has a 30-game point streak. He scored 100 points in 62 games last season.
With the draught lottery winner only being able to move up 10 spots this year, the bottom 11 teams have a chance to land generational talent. Starting with the last-place team, here’s a look at the teams with the best chances (stats as of the afternoon of Jan. 16; this file will be updated at various points during the season).
Blackhawks of Chicago (11-26-4, 26 pts.)
The Blackhawks briefly escaped the NHL cellar with a three-game winning streak before falling back into it on Jan. 14 after allowing six goals on the first seven shots they faced. They made a game of it, but were defeated 8-5 by the Seattle Kraken. Injured star Patrick Kane missed the first three games but scored in his comeback. After parting ways with Alex DeBrincat, Kirby Dach, Dylan Strome, and Dominik Kubalik in the offseason, the Blackhawks were expected to finish last. They have a plethora of unrestricted free agents available, ranging from Max Domi and Andreas Athanasiou to franchise players Kane and Jonathan Toews (who would have to waive their no-movement clauses).
The Anaheim Ducks (12-27-4, 28 pts.)
Their goal differential of minus-81 is the worst in the league. It took them until November 23 to get their first regulation win, and it took them until December 15-17 to get two in a row. Despite a two-game winning streak in early January, they were outscored 19-5 in their next three games. Last season, general manager Pat Verbeek dealt pending UFAs Josh Manson, Hampus Lindholm, and Rickard Rakell. John Klingberg and three other defensemen are on this year’s UFA list.
Blue Jackets of Columbus (13-27-2, 28 pts.)
With a 4-3 win over the Detroit Red Wings on January 14, they moved up to 30th place. Patrik Laine, who has missed three games this season due to injury, scored his 10th career hat trick to snap a nine-game goal drought. As an offseason free agent signing, the Blue Jackets held on to snap a 10-game road losing streak. Johnny Gaudreau contributed two assists. The team is still beset by injuries (No. 1 defenseman Zach Werenski, No. 6 forward Jakub Voracek), but captain Boone Jenner has returned. Bedard would provide an answer to the question of who would play between Gaudreau and Laine.
The Arizona Coyotes (13-24-5, 31 pts.)
A road-heavy start to the season (28 of their first 42 games) has harmed the rebuilding team, and their road losing streak has reached 14 games. However, they have lost their last three games at Mullett Arena, as well as nine in a row overall. Defenseman Jakob Chychrun has performed admirably since returning from injury, but he has also expressed interest in being traded. Bedard would be a strong selling point as Tempe voters decide whether to approve a new arena in a special election in May.
Sharks of San Jose (13-23-9, 35 pts.)
Erik Karlsson has 58 points to lead all defensemen in a resurgent Norris Trophy season that has also earned him an All-Star Game berth. However, the Sharks have only four home victories. Mike Grier, the team’s first-year general manager, could continue to rebuild it, as he did with the offseason trade of Brent Burns. In addition, he must make a decision on pending restricted free agent Timo Meier, the team’s leading goal scorer.
Canadiens de Montreal (18-23-3, 37 pts.)
After a strong start, the Canadiens went 1-9-1, but they won three of their last five games. Brendan Gallagher will be sidelined for at least six weeks due to a lower-body injury. Mike Hoffman returned to the lineup after missing four of the previous five games. Although Montreal has Florida’s first-round pick, the Panthers have moved out of the bottom 11.
Canucks of Vancouver (18-22-3, 39 pts.)
Canucks president Jim Rutherford stated on Jan. 16 that he needs to do “major surgery” on the roster “between now and the start of next season.” He stated that the changes may involve some key players, but he is also bound by contracts that he cannot change. To keep the salary cap under control, buyouts are an option in the offseason. “I like a challenge, and man, do I have one,” he said. He also stated that the team has made “our best effort” to re-sign Bo Horvat, though he recognises that the offer may be low given the captain’s career season. In response to reports that the team had discussions with Rick Tocchet, Rutherford stated, “Bruce (Boudreau) is our coach right now.”
Senators of Ottawa (19-20-3, 41 points): After a slow start, the Senators, who made significant offseason moves, appear to be gelling. However, they have lost three of their last four games, allowing eight goals to the Kraken and seven to the Colorado Avalanche.
Philadelphia Flyers (18-19-7, 43): Despite a 6-0 loss to the juggernaut Bruins, the Flyers have won seven of their last nine games. Carter Hart, who had been playing well since returning from injury, was pulled early.
Detroit Red Wings (18-17-7, 43): They’re back in the hunt after two straight losses, and they’ve allowed four or more goals in 11 of their last 14 games. After clearing waivers, goalie Alex Nedeljkovic was assigned to the American Hockey League.
Also, although the 22nd-place teams will be determined by Monday night’s action, the Florida Panthers moved two points ahead of the Buffalo Sabres by defeating the Sabres.