Thursday, March 30 2023

A team finishing poorly this season has a chance to win a big prize.

That’s Regina (Saskatchewan) Pats 5-10, 185-pound center Connor Bedard, 17, a generational talent who was confirmed as the top North American prospect in NHL Central Scouting’s midseason rankings.

He has been considered the top pick for 2023 for years and had added to that this season by being named tournament MVP (23 points in seven games) at the world junior championship. He leads the Western Hockey League with 81 points in 33 games (including an active 32-game point streak) after getting 100 points in 62 games last season. He was held off the scoreboard in the CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game on Jan. 25.

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With the winner of the draft lottery in April able to move up only 10 spots this year, the bottom 11 teams have a chance to land Bedard. Here’s a look at the teams with the best chances, starting with the last-place team (stats as of Jan. 25; this file will be updated at various points during the season).

The Blackhawks were expected to finish low after parting ways with Alex DeBrincat, Kirby Dach, Dylan Strome and Dominik Kubalik in the offseason. After winning six of seven to move up to 30th, they’ve lost two in a row. The Blackhawks have plenty of unrestricted free agents who could be moved at the deadline, ranging from Max Domi and Andreas Athanasiou to franchise players Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews (who would have to waive their no-movement clauses).

After briefly falling into the cellar on a tiebreaker, they beat the Arizona Coyotes to rise to 30th until the Columbus Blue Jackets passed them. That 5-2 win lowered their league worst goal differential to minus-86. General manager Pat Verbeek dealt pending UFAs Josh Manson, Hampus Lindholm and Rickard Rakell near the trade deadline last season. This year’s UFA list includes John Klingberg and three other defensemen.

Columbus Blue Jackets (15-30-3, 33 pts.)

The Blue Jackets moved up two spots with a three-game point streak, their first that long since they had a 3-0-1 run in November. The team has been beset by injuries, including to No. 1 defenseman Zach Werenski and top six forward Jakub Voracek.

Arizona Coyotes (15-28-5, 35 pts.)

The slumping, rebuilding team suffered a key loss with defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere going to miss four to six weeks with an upper-body injury. He’s second on the team with 29 points and second in ice time behind defenseman Jakob Chychrun. The Coyotes have lost 12 of their last 14 games, and their road losing streak is at 15 games. Bedard would be a good selling point as voters choose whether to approve a new arena in Tempe during a May special election.

First-year general manager Mike Grier made a trade on Jan. 25, though it didn’t involve resurgent defenseman Erik Karlsson or pending restricted free agent Timo Meier. Forward Matt Nieto and former first-round defenseman Ryan Merkley were sent to the Colorado Avalanche for defenseman Jacob MacDonald and forward Martin Kaut. Nieto, a pending UFA, played for the Avalanche previously.

New coach Rick Tocchet won his debut, beating fellow Bedard watch team Chicago 5-2, but the Canucks were crushed 6-1 by the Seattle Kraken in their next game. The league’s worst penalty killing unit gave up two Seattle power play goals after shutting down the Blackhawks’ power play the day before. The Canucks plan to do “major surgery” on the roster, but they got a key piece under contract for next season. Forward Andrei Kuzmenko, 26, the team’s No. 3 scorer in his first NHL season, agreed to a two-year, $11 million contract extension.

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Just as the Canadiens were escaping a 1-9-1 free fall, the injuries began piling up. The biggest was No. 2 scorer Cole Caufield, who will have season-ending shoulder surgery. The injured players include Brendan Gallagher, Jonathan Drouin, Jake Evans and No. 1 overall pick Juraj Slafkovsky. Goaltender Jake Allen is ready to return from injury. Montreal, which finished last in 2021-22 and won the lottery, also holds Florida’s first-round pick, but the Panthers have moved out of the bottom 11.

The Senators had two pieces of tough news this week. They announced that assistant coach Bob Jones was diagnosed with ALS. Also, forward Josh Norris‘ effort to come back from an October shoulder injury has ended after three games and he will have season-ending surgery. He was a 35-goal scorer last season. The Senators beat the New York Islanders for their second win in six games.

Other teams

Philadelphia Flyers (20-21-8, 48): They pushed their way back to .500 after ending a 10-game winless streak, but they have 2-3-1 since.

Detroit Red Wings (20-18-8, 48): They made major upgrades in the offseason and were 11-5-4 in late November before dropping back. Forward Tyler Bertuzzi is out for the third time this season, but could return in one of the next two games.

St. Louis Blues (23-21-3, 49): Injured All-Star forward Vladimir Tarasenko and defenseman Torey Krug returned to the lineup, though Pavel Buchnevich is now out. Pending UFAs Tarasenko and Ryan O’Reilly could be trade deadline targets.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Which NHL team has best shot at drafting Connor Bedard at No. 1?

Source: Yahoo Sports


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