Nashville, Tenn. – Connor Bedard is an absolute.
Time will tell if he ever meets the super, super, superstar threshold set for him, but it’s safe to assume he’ll be fine in the NHL for years to come.
Bedard represents a key piece to Blackhawks general manager Kyle Davidson’s rebuilding puzzle. Lottery No. 1 pick and in a year where a potentially generational player like Bedard is available, that’s the type of luck Davidson needs to give his rebuild some real hope.
Davidson understood that perfectly. A lot more had to fall in Davidson’s favor as he wrecked the Blackhawks enough to put them in the mathematical ball park to win the lottery.
“It’s luck,” Davidson said Wednesday night. “That’s it. I had no hand in winning the lottery. That’s luck. We are very lucky.”
That luck should make the future easier for Davidson in some ways. He has a core to build his lineup. Davidson can build a power play around Bedard’s strengths and add wingers that match Bedard’s style of play. Taylor Hall was brought in for that specific purpose. It’s a luxury to be able to do that. Even with any picks outside of the first couple in this draft, Davidson thinks he’ll need to assemble a lineup that doesn’t include absolute stars. You think of a team like the Carolina Hurricanes and it’s all about talent depth.
Bedard’s arrival ensures the Blackhawks’ franchise and front office won’t lose patience for Davidson’s rebuild sooner than expected. Bedard will fill enough seats and sell enough jerseys that the departures of Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews will barely be felt. Davidson can mostly stick to his plan.
But it’s not all candy and ice cream for Davidson in the future. In drawing Bedard, there’s added pressure. More importantly, there are high expectations for Davidson to pull off his rebuild. There were a lot of fans on the fence about whether Davidson could completely tear down the Blackhawks and rebuild them significantly better. That’s why a 6-8 year rebuild timeline isn’t too far off. Now, Bedard is bringing Davidson’s vision to life.
“Those players who can reach star potential are tough boxes and tough positions to fill when you’re building a team and that’s where you first hope you can get it, and I feel like we’ve got a player. In Connor we have every opportunity to be that type of player,” he said. Davidson said.
Bedard can’t win trophies alone. There have been plenty of general managers who have drafted players like Bedard and never figured out how to build a Cup-caliber team around that star. How often are the current Edmonton Oilers or Toronto Maple Leafs used as examples of imperfect roster constructions?
To prevent that, Davidson has to get the other moves right. He has that absolute stardom, but now what else? Keeping Davidson around Bedard will determine how far the Blackhawks go. Integrating other parts isn’t easy, but Davidson needs less of them now.
The Blackhawks could be in their rebuilding mode for a few more seasons and could use another top-five pick in next year’s draft to further improve their future lineup. Some of Davidson’s short-term decisions are about trying to use his cap space and surrounding Bedard and other young players with strong players. Davidson will have an NHL roster next season filled with players who could be gone in a few years. About 75 percent of the lineup’s contracts expire in the next few seasons.
At the same time, Davidson is going along with his long-term plan. Drafting and development are key aspects of that project. As Davidson has more players from his NHL roster, he is willing to bring in younger players to replace them. That is how the plan should be fulfilled.
Bedard is in the absolute category. He will step into Toews’ role as the No. 1 center next season. Lukas Reichel looks more and more like a solid top-six player. But beyond them, the forward group is full of unknowns.
The Blackhawks have Oliver Moore, who went 19th overall on Wednesday, and have to think another top-six forward can play center or wing in the next 2-3 years. They trust Frank Nassar, 13Th Last year’s overall pick is in that group. If all goes well, that gives them a top six forward. You’d have to imagine another forward targeting a high first-round pick next year as well.
Taylor Radish and Filip Kurashev could rebuild and be top-nine forward options. Cole Goodman, Colton Dach, Gavin Hayes and Ryan Greene make up the top nine. Ilya Safonov, Paul Ludwinski, Samuel Savoie, Aidan Thompson, Jalen Luypen, Anti Saarela and Dominic James are bottom-six talent. The Blackhawks will add even more forwards in Thursday’s second round.
“I’ve said this before, I think we have a good defenseman prospect pool,” Blackhawks director of amateur scouting Mike Donneke said Wednesday. “That doesn’t mean we won’t take a defenseman tomorrow; we’ll see what’s available. But again, we’re going to continue to stick to attributes like speed and competitiveness. Right now, we’re doing a good job of building that forward depth.
Granted, Davidson may already be close to having his future defensive player. Seth Jones will be a top-four defenseman for the Blackhawks for the entirety of his contract. Kevin Gorczynski, 7th overall last year, was drafted as the No. 1 defenseman. Alex Vlasic and Wyatt Kaiser are in Davidson’s long-term plans. Sam Rinzel, another 2022 first-round pick, has some catching up to do, but they think he could be another key NHL defenseman. They have several NHL prospects like Isaac Phillips, Nolan Allen and Ethan Del Mastro. They could add another right-handed defenseman to the pipeline on Thursday.
Among the goalies, Arvid Soderblom has the makings of a No. 1 goalie and will get a chance to show it off in the NHL this season. Drew Comezzo, a 2020 second-round draft pick, is a future no. 2 goalie, and will be the No. 1 in Rockford next season. The Blackhawks could draft a goalie as early as Thursday. Adam Ghajan is a possibility.
What the Blackhawks “think” about their prospects will evolve into what they “know” in the coming years. When that happens, Davidson can determine how to tinker with his roster construction to ensure success. That means constant promotion from within. It may also require going out and getting another key piece.
With Bedard, the Blackhawks have a better chance to win than without him. It was given. No matter how fortunate the Blackhawks were to draft Bedard, Davidson controls what the Blackhawks ultimately become with Bedard.
(Photo: Christopher Hanewinkel / USA Today)