The 2020s are looking a lot like the 2000s for the Chicago Blackhawks.
The symmetry is almost uncanny, and Blackhawks fans can only hope the results play out the same way, too.
Making its first No. 1 overall selection since it took Patrick Kane in 2007, Chicago supercharged its rebuild and returned to NHL relevance this week thanks largely to Connor Bedard, arguably the best prospect since Connor McDavid went first overall in 2015.
“It’s an unbelievable feeling to be here with my friends and get to hear my name called and experience that, especially with such a storied organization,” Bedard said to NHL.com of being picked first. “Everything I heard about the city, the people there is nothing but positive, so I can’t wait for that.”
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The Blackhawks’ recent era should harken memories of the early aughts where they wandered the NHL wilderness. Like when it only made one postseason appearance between 1997-2008, Chicago has only qualified for the playoffs in one of the past seven seasons — in 2020, where it finished in last place yet advanced in the Edmonton bubble after upsetting McDavid’s Oilers.
Chicago was also rocked by scandal when former prospect Kyle Beach brought forth sexual-assault allegations against a former video coach in 2021. Chicago’s mishandling of the scandal — like the far-less-egregious organization policy to black out home games that were not sold out in the mid-90s and early-2000s — was a black eye on the organization and led to a fan revolt.
That revolt, coupled with a substandard roster, led to Chicago’s average home attendance dropping each of the past three seasons, excluding the fanless 2020-21 season. The Blackhawks’ 2022-23 average of 17,167 fans was their lowest since 2007-08.
But winning helps change perception. It started when Chicago won the draft lottery May 8 and the right to choose Bedard, a soon-to-be 18-year-old center from North Vancouver who reportedly fetched the organization more than $2 million in season-ticket sales already.
Bedard is, by all accounts, a can’t-miss prospect, and Chicago feels lucky to have him.
“You realize how humble and how hungry he is,” Blackhawks general manager Kyle Davidson said to NHL.com, referencing Bedard. “He’s so excited to get in the weight room and back on the ice, it gets you fired up when someone wants to be great and wants to work at being great. It’s pretty exciting.”
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Bedard may get the most publicity, but Chicago’s second first-round pick, Oliver Moore from the USA National Team Development Program, was a steal. The consensus best skater in the draft and a top-10 talent to some, Moore was such a tantalizing prospect that Davidson tried to trade up to make sure no one nabbed him before he did with the 19th pick.
“We had Oliver way higher than we picked him,” Davidson said. “I was working the phones trying to get up with him in mind, so it’s almost a perfect scenario where we just stayed, we didn’t have to give up any extra picks to get up and get him. We just stuck at our 19th overall and got the guy we wanted anyway.”
With valuable cap space to weaponize, Davidson acquired veteran forward and three-time Stanley Cup winner Corey Perry from the Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday. That move comes on the heels of Chicago trading for Taylor Hall, McDavid’s former mentor and the 2018 Hart Trophy winner, as well as gritty forward Nick Foligno from the Boston Bruins on Tuesday.
“Those two guys have been through everything in the National Hockey League,” Bedard said of Hall and Foligno. “Obviously they’re unbelievable players. Having those guys to ask questions to, and obviously they’re going to help the team win a lot of games, it’s awesome.”
There’s more work for Davidson and the Blackhawks to do. They still need to find their Duncan Keith-like No. 1 defenseman since Seth Jones isn’t it.
They also still don’t have an answer in goal, though the Hawks won the Stanley Cup with Antti Niemi in 2010 and did select Adam Gajan with their first Day 2 pick Thursday.
But after Kane was picked in 2007, it took Chicago just two seasons to reach the Western Conference Final and three to win the Cup. If history is going to repeat itself, Chicago appears poised to take over the NHL soon.