‘A great feeling’: Connor Bedard is a Blackhawk after being selected with the No. 1 pick in the 2023 NHL draft

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — At 13 years old, Connor Bedard was proclaimed “the future of hockey.”

If so, the future begins now.

The Blackhawks took about a minute and a half once the clock started during Wednesday night’s NHL draft to select Bedard with the No. 1 pick, christening him as the “cornerstone” of their attempt to build the next Chicago sports dynasty.

With fans at Bridgestone Arena chanting, “Let’s go, Hawks,” general manager Kyle Davidson stepped onto the podium and said: “I’d like to say hi to all the Blackhawks fans back in Chicago, Blackhawks fans here today and Blackhawks fans watching around the world.

“And with the first overall selection in the 2023 NHL draft, the Chicago Blackhawks are very proud to select, from the Regina Pats of the Western Hockey League, Connor Bedard.”

For Bedard, his selection to the NHL was the culmination of years of expectation and anticipation.

“It’s an unbelievable feeling to be with my family and friends and get to hear my name be called and experience that, especially with such a storied organization,” Bedard said. “Everything I’ve heard about the people there has been nothing but positives.

“Very thankful that the staff, Kyle, (coach) Luke (Richardson), everyone put their faith in me with that pick.”

The Hawks drafted center Oliver Moore of the U.S. National Team Development Program with the No. 19 pick, acquired from the Tampa Bay Lightning in the March 2022 Brandon Hagel trade.

Bedard wouldn’t let on whether the Hawks brass informed him of their plans during the combine earlier this month in Buffalo, N.Y.

“I’ll keep that as a private thing,” he said. “But I had really good talks with them and seemed like great people. It’s crazy that there’s four or five (Hawks) guys (I know). ... They kind of texted me a bit, but I think I’ll talk to them a lot more tonight now that it’s official.”

Now Bedard goes from loads of potential to the “Chosen One” who needs to fulfill that promise.

“I’ve had kind of a gradual growth of exposure and pressure for the last five, six years, so I think that’s been good for me,” he said. “It wasn’t a kind of overnight thing.

“And I’m not focused on outside expectations. I’m going to be focused on my teammates, coaches, family, everyone there, the staff, and I’m trying to win hockey games and trying to be the best player I can be.”

The 17-year-old from North Vancouver, British Columbia, is accustomed to big moments. As a center for the Regina Pats, Bedard became the first player to sweep the Canadian Hockey League’s Player of the Year, Top Prospect and Top Scorer awards.

He joins a Hawks franchise at the nadir of its rebuild. The roster has been torn down and will be reshaped with Bedard as the centerpiece, constructed to help him develop and maximize his formidable gifts.

Bedard has been a prolific scorer and playmaker since his youth hockey days, and he added an exclamation point last season with the Pats: 71 goals and 72 assists (143 points) in 57 games. His 2.51 points per game, tops in the Western Hockey League, included a 35-game point streak.

On the international stage, Bedard has stamped his claim among the best of all time. He was MVP of the 2023 World Junior Championship, leading Canada to the gold medal and eclipsing Jaromir Jagr, Wayne Gretzky and Eric Lindros for most points (23) in the tournament by an under-18 player.

Davidson wouldn’t acknowledge the obvious Tuesday — that he would be picking Bedard — so Bedard and his family could fully soak in the moment.

But Bedard was such a lock, when Davidson was asked if any GM even attempted to offer a trade package for the No. 1 pick, he smiled and replied, “Nope.”

Davidson articulated what having the No. 1 pick in a generational draft — and overcoming a 11.5% lottery chance to do so — will mean for the Hawks as they try to climb back into playoff contention in the next few years.

“Ideally they’re one of those players that can be a cornerstone moving forward,” he said. “You don’t want to assume anything, but we feel pretty darn good about the type of player we’ll be able to acquire with the first overall.

“So ideally it is one of those cornerstone pieces with many days of success ahead, but we’re not going to take anything for granted. We’re going to put that player in the best situation to grow, develop and succeed, and hopefully it all works out the way we want it to.”

Bedard is focused on the remainder of his summer training and the start of Hawks development camp this weekend — and accommodating simple requests from Chicago fans, something he couldn’t do before he became a bona fide Hawk.

“It’s good I don’t have to say no to signing anything Chicago now,” Bedard said. “It’s great to see the passion of them and just how that city gets behind all their teams.

“They have a lot of sports teams and of course the Blackhawks is a big one. Seeing the support so far, it’s hard to describe and put into words, but it’s a great feeling.”

Chicago-area fan brings his family to witness history

Thomas McKinney, a 30-year-old warehouse associate from Lombard, brought his wife, Sara, and 1-year-old son, Charlie, to Bridgestone Arena to witness Bedard’s selection in person.

McKinney decided to make the trip soon after the Hawks won the draft lottery on May 8.

“I’m excited. I’m ecstatic,” McKinney said about an hour before the draft. “The day they announced, I was pacing my living room floor just shaking. My wife had just put my son down and as soon as she walked out of his bedroom, where he’s asleep, they announced the Blackhawks had the No. 1 overall pick.

“I screamed, yelled, jumped around. My mom asked me if I was OK. And my wife looked at me mad and said, ‘Be quiet. He’s asleep.’ ”

Charlie might not remember the day Bedard’s name was called, but it was important to Thomas to share that moment anyway.

“It means the world,” McKinney said, “because he’s now going to be able to see a generational player with him growing up and understand that what he’s witnessing tonight will put him into a different category of a new generation of Hawks fans instead of the generation I grew up with: Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and all the other guys for those three Stanley Cups.

“And he’ll hopefully get to witness many, many more Stanley Cups with this future pick that we’re more than likely going with and with all the talent that we have in the organization right now.”