The Prize at the End of the Tank: What Connor Bedard Would Mean to the Blackhawks Rebuild

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The Prize at the End of the Tank: What Connor Bedard Would Mean to the Blackhawks Rebuild

Chicago Blackhawks

This year’s Chicago Blackhawks have been built to win… the 2023 NHL Draft Lottery.

Having the worst record in the league is not a guarantee of the No. 1 overall pick. It guarantees a top-three pick but only comes with an 18.5 percent chance of the lottery balls falling your way. So even if the Blackhawks wind up with the worst record, they still have roughly a one-in-five chance of getting the pick.

According to Tankathon’s odds, the Blackhawks have a 25.5 percent chance of being the top overall pick right now. Of course, that’s based on the lottery odds and the Blackhawks’ likelihood of being the worst team in the league (which they are right now). 

On Thursday morning, The Athletic published a roundtable discussion looking at the really bad teams, and the chances each has of staying in the race to the bottom. Everything they had to say about the Blackhawks’ chances of staying where they are today should feel reasonably obvious. But it confirms that the roster general manager Kyle Davidson built is performing as well as many thought it would: historically bad. 

In part of their story that is somewhat ironically headlined, “Any reason to believe things will get better?” (which, of course, isn’t the point), it’s pointed out that the Blackhawks are at the bottom already before trading away assets of value. 

This is the team GM Kyle Davidson hoped he was building over the offseason. He stripped away any optimism by trading Alex DeBrincat and Kirby Dach and not re-signing other key players like Dylan Strome and Dominik Kubalik. There aren’t a lot of players or areas on this team you’d point to them getting better over the course of the season. If anything, it’ll probably get worse considering who could be traded in the coming months. Even if their goaltending got hot, the Blackhawks have already seen that their lack of offense, no matter what Patrick Kane does, is too much to overcome.

And how could the deadline impact that reality? They point out: ” It’s possible Kane, Jonathan Toews, Max Domi and Andreas Athanasiou are all dealt at the deadline. Kane, Domi and Toews are one, two and three in points on the team, and Athanasiou is fourth in goals. The Blackhawks could have at least 21 games with a roster minus all those players.” So the trying times may get worse before the end of the campaign. 

But that brings us to the money question: what if the Blackhawks do win the draft lottery? What if Connor Bedard is headed to Chicago for prospect camps next summer? And what would that mean to the turnaround timeline we’ve been considering since Davidson began his transparent tear-down? 

Bedard would certainly accelerate the Blackhawks’ rebuild. His addition wouldn’t completely fix things — it’s likely the Blackhawks could be in the running for the No. 1 pick in 2024, too — but he would give them an anchor to build around and someone who could start filling the marketing void if Kane and Toews move on. They’ll need to start selling someone’s jerseys. Davidson does already have a group of defensemen he likes for the future. He set himself up there by taking Kevin Korchinski with the No. 7 pick last year. The forward prospect pipeline needs work, though. Frank Nazar, who was drafted 13th last year, and Lukas Reichel, their 2020 first-round pick, also headline the group. Bedard would obviously jump to the front of the line.

The Blackhawks’ forward prospect pool is a lot deeper than just Nazar and Reichel at this point, in my opinion. Ryan Greene has shown me a lot as a freshman at Boston University this season and plays the game hard in every zone. He’s going to be a player who could eventually be in a top-six role with Reichel and Nazar. 

What it lacks in high-end skill — something Bedard would change immediately — the Blackhawks’ pipeline does have some good depth players coming.

There are some excellent complimentary pieces in the pipeline as well. Colton Dach, Dominic James, Samuel Savoie, Paul Ludwinski, Aidan Thompson, and Victor Stjernborg could all develop into middle-six-type players. And guys like Landon Slaggert and Cole Guttman could be contributors by the end of this season after the sell-off takes place (and Slaggert’s season at Notre Dame comes to an end). 

The point, though, is that Connor Bedard changes literally everything for the Blackhawks’ future. And the same could be said for the Blackhawks landing the No. 2 pick and selecting Michigan center Adam Fantilli. So even if the lottery balls don’t fully fall in the Blackhawks’ direction, finishing second on the board when the draft begins wouldn’t be a loss for the organization. 

Starting next Monday, Dec. 26, you can watch Bedard and Fantilli skate with four Blackhawks prospects — Dach, Korchinski, Ethan Del Mastro, and Nolan Allan — for Canada in the World Junior Championship. 

Author: Tab Bamford

Tab is the Lead Blackhawks voice for BN. He is the author of two books about the Blackhawks, most recently "Chicago Blackhawks: An Illustrated Timeline" (Reedy Press, 2021). Find him on Twitter at @The1Tab