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Blackhawks land top pick, Blue Jackets drop

Connor Bedard has been considered the top pick for the 2023 NHL draft for years, and the biggest question was who would end up with his rights.

That was answered Monday night, when the Chicago Blackhawks won the draft lottery and the opportunity to select Bedard with the No. 1 overall pick on June 28 in Nashville.

Bedard, 17, who entered the Western Hockey League draft early, has dominated junior hockey and international hockey. He had 100 points in 62 games last season with the Regina (Saskatchewan) Pats and topped that with 143 points in 57 games this season. He was MVP of the world junior championships with 23 points in seven games as Canada won gold.

Here are the winners and losers of the NHL draft lottery:

Winner: Blackhawks and their fans

Chicago won Stanley Cups in 2010, 2013 and 2015, but it has missed the playoffs for five of the last six seasons. Bedard, by himself, won’t get the team back to the playoffs, but he can provide enough excitement for fans as the team builds around him. It’s reminiscent of when the Blackhawks built around Jonathan Toews (No. 3 in 2006) and Patrick Kane (No. 1 in 2007). “It can change a franchise, it can change a city and it can change an era in a team’s history,” general manager Kyle Davidson said of having the No. 1 overall pick in the right year. “When our logo flipped over there, I was like, ‘Wow.'”

Loser: Blackhawks critics

The franchise is less than two years removed from the release of a damning report about how it mishandled a sexual assault allegation involving then-video coach Brad Aldrich during the team’s run to the 2010 championship. Most people since then have left the team, but the scandal tarnished the organization. Plus, the Blackhawks were the definition of organizational tank, moving out Alex DeBrincat, Kane, Max Domi, Jake McCabe and others either in the offseason or before the trade deadline. Should a team be rewarded for paring down that much?

Winner: Connor Bedard

He lands with an Original Six team and in a big city. The endorsement opportunities will be immense. He gets a solid coach in Luke Richardson. Plus, he’s in the Western Conference and the Vancouver-area native will get more games on the West Coast than he would have if an Eastern Conference team had won the lottery, though not as much as if Anaheim, San Jose or Vancouver had won.

Loser: Connor Bedard

Who will he pass to? Who will pass to him? Chicago’s roster is very thin after all the departures. Only 13 players are under contract next season, according to Cap Friendly, and the Blackhawks already said they are moving on from captain Toews. Bedard would have a better chance at more immediate success on other teams. But he should be a draw for pending free agents, so the Blackhawks could potentially rebuild more quickly.

Winner: The NHL and its network partners

It’s better for the league, ESPN and TNT to have a player like Bedard in a major TV market like Chicago. Being in the Central time zone means Bedard will likely spend a lot of time on national television. The Blackhawks haven’t been in a Winter Classic since 2019 because of the team’s recent struggles. Perhaps, they’ll get back in the mix now.

If the Coyotes had won the lottery, gaining the rights to Bedard would have helped the team during a May 16 vote to determine whether an arena will be built in Tempe. But Arizona did gain another first-round pick in this year’s draft (No. 12 overall via the Jakob Chychrun trade) when the Ottawa Senators didn’t win either drawing.

The last-place team didn’t get Bedard despite the best odds, but they won the second drawing and held the No. 2 picks. This is an extremely deep draft and expected No. 2 pick Adam Fantilli, the Hobey Baker Award-winning center from the University of Michigan, is also projected to be an impact player. The Ducks had excellent luck with another Hobey Baker winner in Paul Kariya.

They moved back a spot after Anaheim won the second drawing. Plus ESPN’s Kevin Weekes, in a gaffe, announced that they were picking third and the team had to wait through a commercial break to see deputy commissioner Bill Daly flip over the No. 3 cards and reveal the Columbus logo. “I think it was pretty evident what was going to happen,” said general manager Jarmo Kekalainen. “Spoiled the moment, I guess.” The Blue Jackets were aggressive in the offseason by signing Johnny Gaudreau, but were crushed by injury after injury. Bedard would have made an excellent center for Gaudreau and Patrik Laine. But again, they’ll get an impact player at No. 3 overall.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: NHL draft lottery: Winners, losers as Connor Bedard goes to Blackhawks

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