NASHVILLE, TN – Conor Bedard is divorced.
Whether or not he meets the super, super, superstar threshold set for him, time will tell, but it’s safe to assume he’ll be more than fine in the NHL for years to come.
Bedard points to a key piece to the puzzle of rebuilding Blackhawks general manager Kyle Davidson. Drawing first pick in the lottery and getting it in a year when a player of a potential generation like Bedard is available, it’s just the kind of luck Davidson needed to give the rebuilding some real hope.
Davidson totally understands that. As much as he broke up the Blackhawks enough to put them on the sports field to win the lottery, a lot still has to fall for Davidson.
“He’s lucky,” Davidson said Wednesday night. “It is what it is. I had no hand in winning the lottery. It’s just luck. We are very lucky.”
And that wealth will make the future easier for Davidson in some ways. He has a pivot to build his squad around. Davidson can build a power play around Bedard’s strengths and add wings that match Bedard’s style of play. Taylor Hall was brought in for this specific purpose. Being able to do that is a luxury. With any pick outside of the first couple in this draft, Davidson probably thinks he might have to put together a lineup that doesn’t include absolute stars. You think of a team like the Carolina Hurricanes where it’s more about depth of talent.
Bedard’s arrival also ensures that Blackhawks ownership and front office likely won’t lose patience with Davidson rebuilding sooner than expected. Bedard will fill enough seats and sell enough shirts that the departures of Patrick Keane and Jonathan Toews can hardly be felt. Davidson can largely stick to his plan.
But it’s not all candy and ice cream for Davidson’s future. In Bédard’s drafting, there is additional pressure as well. Notably, there is growing expectation that Davidson will rebuild. There was a lot of fans on the fence about whether Davidson could almost completely tear the Blackhawks apart and build them better and better. That’s why a 6- to 8-year rebuilding timeline doesn’t seem so far-fetched. Now, Bedard is bringing Davidson’s vision back to life.
“These players who can reach star potential are the hardest squares and the hardest positions to fill when you’re building a team and obviously the first overall is where you hope to get that and I feel we have a player in Connor who has every chance of being that kind. of players for us,” Davidson said.
Bedard alone will not win cups. There are plenty of general managers who have drafted players like Bedard and haven’t figured out how to build a trophy-caliber team around this superstar. How often are the current Edmonton Oilers or the Toronto Maple Leafs used as examples of incomplete roster creations?
To prevent this, Davidson has to get the other moves right. He has that absolute star, but now what? What Davidson puts around Bedard will determine how far the Blackhawks go. The other parts aren’t easy to put together, but now Davidson needs a few.
The Blackhawks will likely be in their rebuilding mode for a few more seasons, and will likely use another top-five pick in next year’s draft to bolster their future lineup. Some of Davidson’s short-term decisions revolve around trying to make use of his cap space and surrounding Bedard and other young players with veterans. Next season Davidson will likely have an NHL roster full of players he can walk away from in a few years. About 75 percent of the squad will expire in the next few seasons.
At the same time, Davidson is going through his long-term plan. Formulation and development are vital aspects of that plan. As Davidson has more and more veterans coming off his NHL roster, he’s banking on having young players ready to arrive to replace them. This is how the plan is supposed to be implemented.
Bedard is in the absolute category. He will step into Toews’ role as the No. 1 center next season. Lucas Richelle looked more and more like a top-six player. But beyond them, the front group is full of unknowns.
The Black Hawks must believe Oliver Moore, who picked him No. 19 on Wednesday, can play either center or wing as another top-6 forward in the next 2-3 years. Hope Frank Nizar, 13y The overall pick last year, in that group too. If all goes well, that gives them the top six attackers. You’ll have to envision another forward who’ll be the target with a high first-round pick next year, too.
Taylor Radish and Philip Kurachev can continue to rebuild and be two of the top nine forward options. Cole Guttman, Colton Dash, Gavin Hayes and Ryan Green also round out the top nine. Ilya Safonov, Paul Ludwinski, Samuel Savoy, Aidan Thompson, Galen Luiben, Ante Sarella and Dominic James appear to have the bottom six. The Blackhawks are likely to add more forwards in the second round on Thursday.
“I’ve said this before, I think we have a good group of defensemen,” Mike Donegy, the Blackhawks’ director of amateur scouting, said Wednesday. “That doesn’t mean we won’t take a defenseman tomorrow; we’ll see what presents itself. But again, we’ll continue to stick to attributes as much as speed and competitiveness. Right now, we’re doing a very good job of building that depth forward.”
That’s right, Davidson may already be close to having a defensive lineman in the future. Seth Jones will be one of the Black Hawks’ top four defensemen for his entire decade. Kevin Korczynski, ranked seventh last year, has been recruited as the No. 1 defenseman Alex Vlasic and Yate Keizer in Davidson’s long-term plans. Sam Rinzel, another 2022 first-round draft pick, has some development to do, but they think he could be another key player on defense in the NHL. They have a bunch of other prospects like Isaak Phillips, Nolan Allan, and Ethan Del Mastro who have a chance at being NHLers. They will likely add another right-handed defenseman to the pipeline on Thursday.
Among goalkeepers, Arvid Soderblom has the makings of a No. 1 goalkeeper and he’ll get the chance to show that this season in the NHL. 2020 Round 2 candidate Drew Commisso is a potential #2 goalkeeper of the future and likely #1 at Rockford next season. The Black Hawks could also look to recruit a goaltender as early as Thursday. Adam Gaghan is one possibility.
Much of what the Blackhawks “think” about their prospects will evolve into what they “know” in the coming years. When that happens, Davidson can work out how he might need to tinker with his roster building to ensure success. It may mean continuing to promote from within. This may also require going out and getting another master piece.
With Bédard, the Blackhawks have a better chance of success than without him. This is a given. As lucky as the Blackhawks were in drafting Bedard, Davidson is in control of what the Blackhawks eventually become with Bedard.
(Photo: Christopher Hanwinkel/USA Today)
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