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New era begins as Chicago selects Connor Bedard 1st overall in NHL draft

Connor Bedard didn’t want to jinx it.

The 17-year-old phenom probably knew deep down where he would begin his professional career as soon as Chicago jumped up two spots to win the NHL’s draft lottery in May.

Fans of the Original Six franchise immediately started scooping up jerseys with Bedard’s familiar No. 98 on the back as a sports-crazed city — one that has witnessed greatness up close time and again — waited just over seven weeks for the arrival of its next star.

Through it all, Bedard stayed on message, shooting down Chicago-related questions with the same precision he uses to make opponents look foolish.

He can now finally turn his attention to a new challenge in the Windy City.

Chicago did the expected Wednesday night, selecting Bedard with the No. 1 pick at the NHL draft.

“It still doesn’t feel real, to be honest,” he said. “It’s so crazy.”

WATCH | Bedard selected by Chicago with No. 1 pick:

Chicago selects Regina Pats phenom Connor Bedard 1st overall in NHL Draft

9 hours ago

Duration 2:45

17-year-old Connor Bedard from North Vancouver, B.C., is selected by Chicago with the first pick in the 2023 NHL Draft.

The five-foot-10, 185-pound centre with a bullet shot and awe-inspiring skill tore up the Western Hockey League with 143 points in 57 games for the Regina Pats in 2022-23.

“It’s an unbelievable feeling to be here with my family and friends, and get to hear my name be called and experience that, especially with such a storied organization,” Bedard said. “Very thankful [they] put their faith in me.”

Bedard also led Canada to gold with a record-breaking performance at the world junior hockey championship, and won a number of individual awards in a memorable season that culminated on the stage at Bridgestone Arena.

“He wants to be great,” Chicago general manager Kyle Davidson said. “He takes nothing for granted. He’s humble … he just gets it. He’s going to put in the work to be as good he can be.

“That’s really exciting considering how good he already is.”

Mentioned in the same breath as previous generational talents, including Connor McDavid and Sidney Crosby, the North Vancouver product joins a rebuilding team that parted ways with franchise icons and three-time Stanley Cup champions Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews in recent months.

“It’s incredible,” he said of following in their footsteps. “Growing up, that was when they were going on their runs, winning the Cups. You see the United Center going crazy and all of Chicago getting behind them — Original Six and so much history.”

Chicago made a significant move in the days leading up to the draft to support Bedard’s transition to the NHL, acquiring veteran forwards Taylor Hall, the top pick in 2010 and the 2018 Hart Trophy winner as NHL MVP, and Nick Foligno from the Boston Bruins.

“Those two guys have been through been through everything,” Bedard said. “For me to get to learn from them … it’s awesome.”

Ducks take Carlsson 2nd, Fantilli goes 3rd to Columbus

The Anaheim Ducks, who finished with the league’s worst record in 2022-23, took Swedish centre Leo Carlsson second overall before the Columbus Blue Jackets chose University of Michigan counterpart Adam Fantilli — a native of Nobleton, Ont., and Bedard’s world junior teammate — at No. 3.

“A lot of phenomenal hockey players in this draft,” Fantilli said when asked if he was surprised the Ducks passed on him. “Leo’s a phenomenal hockey player. He’s a great kid.

“I’m pumped for him.”

The San Jose Sharks then grabbed American centre Will Smith with the fourth pick.

Canadiens select Reinbacher

The Montreal Canadiens were up next and selected Austrian defenceman David Reinbacher to round out the top-5 of a deep draft at the forward position.

“Amazing feeling,” Reinbacher said. “Really huge honour for me.”

Reinbacher, the first defenceman selected in this year’s draft, joined Thomas Vanek as the highest-drafted Austrian ever. He had 22 points (three goals, 19 assists) in 46 games for EHC Kloten of Switzerland’s top professional league.

Carey Price took the stage to announce Montreal’s selection, but backed out partway through after appearing to forget Reinbacher’s name.

“Boy that was embarrassing. Sorry David….. Reinbacher,” Price wrote on Twitter.

Montreal is set to make eight more selections, starting with No. 69, when the draft continues with Rounds 2-7 on Thursday.

Matvei Michkov, viewed by many as the second-best player in the draft behind Bedard, slid down the board to the Philadelphia Flyers at No. 7, due in large part to the winger’s professional contract in the Russian-based KHL that could delay his NHL arrival by a few years — or longer.

Canucks take Willander with 11th pick

The Vancouver Canucks selected Swedish defenceman Tom Willander 11th, the Calgary Flames took Slovakian forward Samuel Honzek 16th, and the Winnipeg Jets picked Colby Barlow of the Ontario Hockey League’s Owen Sound Attack at No. 18.

Willander had 25 points (four goals, 21 assists) in 39 games for Rogle BK’s under-20 team in Sweden. He has committed to join the NCAA’s Boston University as a freshman next season.

The 18-year-old grew up a Canucks fan thanks to countrymen Daniel and Henrik Sedin.

Vancouver is set to make six more selections, starting with No. 75.

Honzek had 56 points (23, 33) in 43 games with the WHL’s Vancouver Giants last season.

The 18-year-old Slovakian has twice represented his country at the world junior hockey championship.

Calgary is set to make five more selections, starting with No. 48.

Barlow had 79 points (46 goals, 33 assists) in 59 games for the Ontario Hockey League’s Attack last season.

The 18-year-old from Orillia, Ont., also represented Canada at the under-18 world championships, where he had one goal and three assists in six games.

Winnipeg is set to make four more selections, starting with No. 82.

Maple Leafs draft Cowan at No. 28

The Toronto Maple Leafs drafted forward Easton Cowan of the OHL’s London Knights with the 28th pick to finish off the Canadian contingent’s night. Both the Edmonton Oilers and Ottawa Senators previously traded their first-round picks. Rounds two through seven go Thursday.

Cowan, a five-foot-10, 170-pound winger from Mount Brydges, Ont., had 53 points (20 goals, 33 assists) in 68 games with the OHL’s Knights last season.

Toronto acquired the pick, which belonged to the Bruins, from the Washington Capitals at the trade deadline after trading its own first-round pick to St. Louis.

The Cowan pick marked Brad Treliving’s first selection as Maple Leafs GM. Treliving didn’t join Toronto’s draft table until his former team, Calgary, had made its first-round pick due to restrictions imposed by the Flames.

Toronto is set to make two more selections, starting with No. 153.

Generational prospect

Bedard’s coronation — just steps from Nashville’s famed Broadway strip where country music starts blaring at 11 a.m. and the party doesn’t end until the wee hours of the morning — opens a new chapter in one of the hockey’s world most-watched young careers.

Set to turn 18 on July 17, Bedard started garnering national attention five years ago and was granted exceptional status to become the first player to suit up in the WHL at age 15.

The COVID-19 pandemic cut his rookie season in Regina short, but he still managed 12 goals and 28 points in 15 games.

Bedard scored 51 goals and 100 points in 62 contests as a 16-year-old in 2021-22 before finding the back of the net a jaw-dropping 71 times in 2022-23.

He set national and tournament records at this year’s world juniors with 14 assists and 23 points on the way to being named the showcase event’s MVP.

Bedard, who also helped Canada capture gold at the 2022 world juniors, set another record when he won player of the year, top prospect and top scorer honours in the Canadian Hockey League — a single-season first.

His family — dad Tom, mom Melanie, sister Madisen and grandmother Lynn — were all in attendance along with a number of close friends.

“Thinking a lot about my grandpa right now,” he said of Garth Bedard, who was killed in a car crash in 2021. “He doesn’t get to be here, but just keeping him with us, our whole family. It’s crazy to think how many people have helped me and how much fun this journey’s been. I remember being here seven years ago for a minor hockey tournament.

“How things come full circle is incredible.”

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