Connor Bedard projects as a transformational hockey star, which makes him the coveted prize in the upcoming National Hockey League draft (June 28-29 in Nashville) and the focus of tonight’s draft lottery.
The Anaheim Ducks have the best odds to win the lottery at 18.5%, followed by the Columbus Blue Jackets at 13.5%. Whoever wins will be in position to take Bedard, and there really is no doubt.
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“Whoever winds up drafting Bedard, I would advise them that their ticket folks should get ready for some incoming calls,” Ahron Cohen, the former president of the Arizona Coyotes and now a venture capitalist for Advantage VC, said during a phone conversation.
Bedard, a 17-year-old forward, amassed 63 goals and 66 assists for 129 points at Regina in the Western Hockey League this past season. He accumulated nine goals and 14 assists during the IIHF World Hockey Junior Championship to help Canada win the gold medal.
Bedard is the most anticipated young hockey player to join the NHL since the Edmonton Oilers selected Connor McDavid with the top pick in the 2015 draft and the Toronto Maple Leafs picked Auston Matthews No. 1 year later.
“You think about what happened when Connor McDavid was drafted and how that transformed the Oilers franchise,” Cohen said. “That happened overnight just in terms of interest in the team, awareness and excitement going into the next season.”
McDavid arrived a year ahead of the opening of the Oilers’ $465 million new home, Rogers Place. He was the best marketing material a sales staff could ask for as it began selling pricey premium seats and sponsorships. The arena upgrade transformed the finances of the club. The Oilers ranked near the bottom of the NHL’s financial table before Rogers, but it finished the 2021-22 season with the NHL’s fourth highest revenue, despite playing in one of the league’s five smallest markets.
Rogers serves as the centerpiece of the 25-acre ICE District. The development includes condos, a public plaza, dining, hospitality, retail and office space. The $2 billion project will eventually grow to nearly $5 billion, according to someone familiar with the plans. Oilers owner Daryl Katz has unloaded portions of the project, including the $400 million sale of the commercial portion of the 69-story Stantec Tower, as well as the sale of another office building to Alberta pension manager AIMCo for $300 million.
A decade before McDavid, another can’t-miss prospect turned around the finances of an NHL franchise. The Pittsburgh Penguins ranked last in NHL attendance during the 2003-04 season, with only 11,877 fans per game, including plenty of comp tickets. They played in the NHL’s oldest arena and had been mired in bankruptcy five years earlier.
After a lockout wiped out the 2004-05 season, the ensuing 2005 lottery served as the Sidney Crosby sweepstakes. The Penguins won a drawing that included all 30 teams because the cancellation of the previous season meant there were no standings to establish an order of choosing. The off-ice impact was instant, as attendance jumped 33% or nearly 4,000 fans per game, despite the Pens finishing with seven fewer wins than any other Eastern Conference team. The victories started coming the following season, and in March 2007, then-owner Mario Lemieux was able to secure an arena funding plan for the Consol Energy Center, which opened in 2010. Crosby, 35, and the Penguins have won three Stanley Cups but missed the playoffs this year for the first time in 16 years.
In Edmonton, McDavid, 26, soared to new heights, leading the league in goals (64), assists (89) and total points (153), the first player to do so since Gretzky in 1986-87.
A center, McDavid is in the sixth season of an eight-year, $100 million contract and will be an unrestricted free agent after the 2025-26 season. In a league with an $82.5 million salary cap, the Oilers were third in the league this season with a cap-hit of $91 million. They were recently valued by Sportico at $1.29 billion, good for eighth in the league.
Thanks, McDavid. Welcome, Bedard.
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