NASHVILLE, Tenn. | Connor Bedard can finally appreciate looking forward to playing for the Chicago Blackhawks after spending the past few months avoiding the subject.
And the Blackhawks — and their fans who began chanting “Let’s go, Hawks!” in Music City after Bedard was selected with the first pick in the NHL draft on Wednesday night — can begin looking forward to a new era with a highly skilled offensive forward who’s drawn comparisons to Connor McDavid and Sidney Crosby.
Bedard became the second No. 1 pick in Blackhawks history, joining Patrick Kane, who went first overall in 2007 and helped form the core of a team that won three Stanley Cups from 2010 to 2015. Kane’s tenure in Chicago ended in February when he was traded to the New York Rangers.
“I can’t put into words growing up and obviously, that’s when they were going on their runs winning Cups,” said Bedard, who turns 18 on July 17. “You watched a lot of them and you see the United Center going crazy and all of Chicago getting behind them and you know (the) Original Six and so much history here.”
As for why he spent the past two months deflecting questions about the Blackhawks? Bedard smiled and said: “I didn’t want to jinx myself.”
At just under 5-foot-10 and 185 pounds, Bedard is regarded a generational prospect, much like McDavid, who was selected first in 2015 and this week was named the league’s MVP for the third time.
Impressive as Bedard’s resume has been, Blackhawks GM Kyle Davidson was careful not to put too much on his new player’s shoulders right away.
“He’s a pretty special player, a very special person. We’ll let him determine how special that first season is,” Davidson said when asked about his expectations for Bedard.
While Bedard’s selection by Chicago was a near certainty, the first round of the draft featured several twists — but no trades.
Sweden’s Leo Carlsson went second overall, chosen by the Anaheim Ducks over Michigan freshman Adam Fantilli. Ducks general manager Pat Verbeek had declined to speak to reporters in the weeks leading up to the draft but believes the sturdy, 6-foot-3 forward can become a dominant two-way player.
“There was a lot of really healthy debate on which player to take,” Verbeek said.
Carlsson got an inkling of the Ducks’ interest after a follow-up meeting with team officials on Tuesday. That was a day after he and his family had to rent a van to drive from Newark, New Jersey, to Music City because their flight was canceled.
Fantilli, the third freshman to win college hockey’s top award, the Hobey Baker Trophy, went third to Columbus.
The first American player off the board went fourth when the San Jose Sharks selected USA Hockey Development Program forward Will Smith, who is from Boston and has committed to playing at Boston College next season.
David Reinbacher was the first defenseman off the board, selected fifth by Montreal. But the player from Austria had to wait a few extra seconds to hear his name called.
Announcing the pick, Canadiens goalie Carey Price stopped after saying “David,” apparently forgetting the player’s last name. General manager Kent Hughes came to the rescue and said: “We planned it that way. It’s David Reinbacher.”
Price posted an apology on Twitter: “Boy, that was embarrassing. Sorry, David … Reinbacher.”
The Arizona Coyotes went with what was considered an off-the-board pick by selecting Russian defenseman Dmitriy Simashev a year after drafting five defensemen. They passed over forward Matvei Michkov, who has captivated draft watchers because the offensively skilled player is under contract to play in his native Russia through the 2025-26 season.
The Philadelphia Flyers ended Michkov’s wait with the seventh pick. Danny Briere, the Flyers’ first-time general manager, is overseeing a major overhaul, putting him in position to be patient while the 18-year-old Michkov finishes out his contract in Russia.
A translator spoke to The Associated Press about Michkov and said the player is highly motivated to show he should have been picked higher.
“He’ll do his best to play against them, win against them, so he will have double motivation to prove that he’s the best player,” the translator said. “The ice will show everything. So maybe everyone has to wait a bit, but when Matvei comes to the ice, everyone will see the wait was worth it.”
Briere called it “a gift” to have Michkov fall to No. 7 and acknowledged the risk involved in selecting him.
“We took a big swing, but we hope that this turns out to be a home run. Time will tell,” said Briere, who met with Michkov a day earlier. “He didn’t make any assurances, but he told us he wanted to play in the NHL. He told us his dream was to win a Stanley Cup. He told us he wanted to be a Flyer.”
The lack of trades during the draft reflected how deeply talented the draft class was considered to be by scouts and executives.
Sabres GM Kevyn Adams said he was shut out in attempting to trade back into the first round.
As for Bedard, he has been envisioning this moment since he was a child spending hours in his driveway and backyard in North Vancouver, British Columbia, where he took between 500 to 1,000 shots a day.
In his first season with the Regina Pats two years ago, he scored 51 goals to become the Western Hockey League’s youngest player to reach 50. His 71 goals in 57 games last season were the most by a WHL player in 24 years, and his 143 points were the most since 1995-96.
After spending the past year tearing down the Blackhawks’ roster, Davidson was pleased to finally begin building it back up. Chicago also selected U.S. developmental program center Oliver Moore at No. 19. From Minnesota, Moore was ranked eighth among North American skaters, and averaged 1.23 points per game last season.
“I’m just so glad to be through round one, have Connor as a Blackhawk and honestly to add Oliver Moore,” Davidson said. “I couldn’t be happier.”
The Colorado Avalanche picked twice in the late stages of the round and took forward Calum Ritchie and defenseman Mikhail Gulyayev.
The 18-year-old Ritchie is a 6-3, 185-pound center who comes out of Oshawa of the OHL, where he tallied 59 points (24 goals, 35 assists) in 59 games played and went with the No. 27 pick. At 31, Colorado chose another 18-year-old in Gulyayev from Omsk Jr. in Russia. The 5-10, 172-pound defenseman scored two goals and had 23 assists in 25 games played.
The Stanley Cup champion Vegas Golden Knights closed the first round by selecting Swedish forward David Edstrom at No. 32.