While the 2023 NHL Draft wraps up Thursday night in Nashville, we needn't wait for the various sportsbooks to post odds for the 2023-24 Calder Trophy Award, given to the league's top rookie. It's a lock that Connor Bedard, considered the best prospect to enter the league since Connor McDavid, will be the clear-cut favorite. His Chicago Blackhawks regular-season debut should come Oct. 10 in Pittsburgh, but his home debut won't be until Oct. 21 vs. Stanley Cup champion Vegas.
To no surprise, Bedard was the No. 1 overall pick Wednesday in Round 1. That was set in stone since Chicago cashed in on its 11.5% shot of winning the draft lottery in early May. It's theoretically possible the Blackhawks don't open the season with Bedard on the roster if they don't think the 17-year-old is ready (18 next month), but that's extremely unlikely. The Blackhawks' teardown has alienated their fanbase, so they need a reason for people to come back. Bedard is that reason. Injuries are always possible.
Last year for the Regina Pats in the WHL, Bedard had 71 goals and 72 assists to lead the league in goals, points and points per game (2.51), a season highlighted by a 35-game point streak (44-46-90). Bedard had two times as many five-point games (10) as times with zero points (five). He became first player in Canadian Hockey League history to sweep the Player of the Year, Top Prospect and Top Scorer awards Saturday. He was the first player to win three trophies at the CHL Awards since McDavid won Top Prospect, Player of the Year and Scholastic Player of the Year awards in 2015.
Bedard (5-foot-10, 185 pounds), a right-shot center, became the second player from Regina to go No. 1, joining Doug Wickenheiser, who was selected by Montreal in 1980. The only other player born in British Columbia to be chosen No. 1 was forward Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, chosen by Edmonton in 2011.
Players picked No. 1 in the NHL Draft typically play right away these days unless they went to play another season of college hockey or are stuck in contracts overseas - the latter is expected to be the case for at least the next few years in the Russian KHL for Matvei Michkov, the No. 7 overall pick by Philadelphia. Michkov slid because of that, as many scouts had him as the No. 2 talent in the draft.
Juraj Slafkovsky was the No. 1 overall pick last year by Montreal but had a disappointing, injury-plagued rookie season with just 10 points in 39 games. The Slovak was not considered anywhere close to Bedard as a prospect. Seattle's Matty Beniers won the 2023 Calder. He was the No. 2 overall pick in 2021 draft but didn't sign with the Kraken until April 2022 because he was deciding whether to continue playing at the University of Michigan.
Buffalo defenseman Owen Power and Anaheim forward Mason McTavish opened as +400 co-favorites to win the 2023 Calder Trophy this time last year. Power was one of three finalists and finished third in the voting.
Chicago's last Calder winner was Artemi Panarin in 2017. The last time the Hawks picked No. 1 they took future Hall of Famer Patrick Kane in 2007. He won the 2007-08 Calder Trophy.
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