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 78 points in 31 games (including an active 30-game point streak) after getting 100 points in 62 games last season.
Follow every game: Latest NHL Scores and Schedules
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. 19; this file will be updated at various points during the season).
Columbus Blue Jackets (13-30-2, 28 pts.)
They made the biggest offseason splash by signing Johnny Gaudreau, but the team has been beset by injuries, including to No. 1 defenseman Zach Werenski and top six forward Jakub Voracek. Defense and goaltending have also been an issue, and they blew a 3-0 lead in a loss to the Anaheim Ducks, another Bedard watch team. It was their 15th loss in their last 18 games. The biggest question when Gaudreau signed was who would center him and Patrik Laine. It could end up being Bedard next season.
Chicago Blackhawks (13-26-4, 30 pts.)
The Blackhawks were expected to finish low after parting ways with Alex DeBrincat, Kirby Dach, Dylan Strome and Dominik Kubalik in the offseason. But they have won five of their last six to escape the cellar. That includes their first regular-season win in Philadelphia in more than 26 years. 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).
Anaheim Ducks (13-28-5, 31 pts.)
Their minus-83 goal differential is worst in the league, but that came down a little when they scored five unanswered goals to beat the Blue Jackets 5-3. It was just the second time they won when trailing after one period. 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.
Arizona Coyotes (14-26-5, 33 pts.)
The rebuilding team’s nine-game losing streak came to an end, but then they were shut out at home by the Washington Capitals. The Coyotes have played a big chunk of their games on the road because they share 5,000-seat Mullett Arena with Arizona State, and their road losing streak is at 14 games. Defenseman Jakob Chychrun has played well since returning from injury but also had expressed interest in a trade. Bedard would be a good selling point as voters choose whether to approve a new arena in Tempe during a May special election.
San Jose Sharks (14-23-9, 37 pts.)
Resurgent defenseman Erik Karlsson led the Sharks to a come-from-behind win against the Dallas Stars with his third four-point game of the season. That gave the Sharks their fifth home win of the season, the fewest in the league. First-year general manager Mike Grier could choose to continue to remake this team, as he did with an offseason trade of Brent Burns. Plus, he has a decision to make on pending restricted free agent Timo Meier, their leading goal scorer.
Vancouver Canucks (18-23-3, 39 pts.)
Rumors continue to swirl around the fate of coach Bruce Boudreau, who got emotional on Jan. 20 when addressing reporters. Canucks president Jim Rutherford, asked on Jan. 16 about reports that the team had talked with Rick Tocchet, said, ‘Bruce is our coach now.’ Rutherford also said he has to do “major surgery” on the roster “between now and the start of next season” to get the cap under control, and the changes could end up involving some core players. He added that the team has taken “our best shot” at re-signing Bo Horvat, though he realizes the offer might be low based on the captain’s career season. Could a trade happen?
Montreal Canadiens (18-23-3, 39 pts.)
The Canadiens have played .500 since a 1-9-1 free fall, but the injuries have been piling up. That includes Brendan Gallagher, Jonathan Drouin, Jake Evans and No. 1 overall pick Juraj Slafkovsky. Montreal also holds Florida’s first-round pick, but the Panthers have moved out of the bottom 11.
Ottawa Senators (20-21-3, 41 points): The Senators, who made major moves in the offseason, started slowly but have played better of late. Forward Josh Norris returned Jan. 18 from a shoulder injury, much earlier than had been expected when he was hurt in October.
Philadelphia Flyers (19-20-7, 45): Even with the rare home loss to the Blackhawks, the Flyers have won eight of their last 11 games. They’re six points out of a playoff spot.
Detroit Red Wings (19-17-8, 46): They also made major upgrades in the offseason and were 11-5-4 in late November before dropping back. Goalie Alex Nedeljkovic was sent to the American Hockey League after clearing waivers.
Buffalo Sabres (22-19-3, 47): The Sabres have lost four of six and were leapfrogged by the Panthers, who beat them 4-1.