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NHL

Connor Bedard Is Not A Cure

Connor Bedard speaks to the press
Dennis Pajot/Getty Images

The NHL Draft lottery is tonight, and thank goodness, because these last few days of playoff games have been pretty light on drama. Also, after spending a few weeks obsessed with just half the league, it's nice to remember that some other teams exist, too. Like the St. Louis Blues. Remember those guys?

The NHL's lottery format gives every team that failed to make the postseason at least a slim chance of boosting their draft position. But most importantly, 11 franchises, starting with Anaheim and ending with Vancouver, have hopes of landing No. 1 overall, and by extension the coveted 17-year-old center Connor Bedard.

The Regina Pats superstar is a legendarily great hockey teen, which is all you can ask for and then some out of this slot. Even a year ago in the WHL his stats were pretty wild—51 goals and 49 assists in 62 games—but in a 2022–23 campaign that included a supernova performance at the World Juniors, Bedard has been magic. In 57 regular season games, he scored 71 times and added 72 assists, and though his team fell in seven games in the first round of the playoffs, he still posted an impossible-seeming 10 goals and 10 assists in that series. As a shooter he can basically teleport the puck behind the goalie. As a skater he can disintegrate any defender 1-on-1. And though the caveats in every scouting report focus on a relative lack of size, there's a vision, creativity, and intensity to his play that bodes well for his development.

The list of potential destinations for Bedard ranges from historic hockey hotbeds with big skates to fill, like Chicago, Detroit, and Montreal, to places like Arizona and Columbus, where Bedard would pretty much instantly be the most important player to ever wear their sweater. But any franchise that lucks into Bedard should immediately savor its lottery win, because even that best-case scenario still looks a little gloomy. Teams like the Wings, Ducks, and Sharks are enduring unfamiliar slogs of irrelevance. Others, like the Capitals, have inevitably crashed back down to Earth after recent success. Still others never achieved much of note in the first place. And there's also the Vancouver Canucks. But the pleasure of anticipating and then watching Bedard take the first steps of a possible Hall of Fame career, undoubtedly producing some spine-tingling highlights along the way, is reason enough to reinvest yourself in a team you've maybe let slip down your list of priorities.

Individual possibility is all this pick promises, however. Great teams are built on intelligent decisions made over the course of several years, not just one instance of luck. The Oilers, who scored four No. 1s from 2010 to 2015, including Connor McDavid, are an example of how the front-office incompetence that puts a team in the lottery in the first place can continue to hamstring them after they win it. And even the apparent success stories are more complicated than they appear. The Lightning and Stamkos, the Avs and MacKinnon, now perhaps the Devils with Nico Hischier and Jack Hughes: All of these franchises have followed No. 1s into the light. But none of them were carried there by that talent alone.

The Lightning's semi-dynasty contained blue-chippers like Stamkos and Victor Hedman, yes, but that pair wouldn't have any titles to its name if it weren't for deeper draft picks like Brayden Point and Nikita Kucherov, or if Tampa's eyes hadn't caught the glint of diamonds in the rough like Ondřej Palát and Yanni Gourde. MacKinnon topped all playoff scorers for the Avs as they hoisted Stanley last season, but he, too, needed a terrific supporting cast that included smart acquisitions like Valeri Nichushkin, Nazem Kadri, and Devon Toews. The Devils' duo only took the next step thanks to additions like the big-swing signing of Dougie Hamilton and the emergence of sixth-round selection Jesper Bratt.

Connor Bedard can be a lot of things, but not a solution for poor roster management. He's a gem to build around in an eventual rags-to-riches story, but winning the lottery is just the beginning of the real work of constructing a contender. After all, if Bedard couldn't carry the Regina Pats beyond the first round, how's he supposed to do it in a place with even less talent, like Chicago?

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