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Connor Bedard — alone — isn’t going to solve the Blackhawks’ problems

It doesn’t matter how good he is.

Czechia v Canada: Preliminary Round Group A - 2022 IIHF World Junior Championship Photo by Codie McLachlan/Getty Images

Since the Chicago Blackhawks were unsuccessful in the draft lottery last week, which meant that their 2022 first-round pick now belongs to the Columbus Blue Jackets due to the Seth Jones trade, there’s been a theme popping up in circles of discussion surrounding the team at 1901 W. Madison Street.

It largely revolves around the idea of the team being intentionally bad next season in hopes of landing a high draft pick in the 2023 draft, where the expected top prize is current 16-year-old Connor Bedard.

And I’m here to tell you why that’s a bad idea.

It has little to do with Bedard himself. All reports suggest he’s a legitimate future franchise player. But the problems in Chicago extend miles beyond one position.

Watching the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the last few weeks has offered a stark reminder of what the Blackhawks have been missing for the last five years or so. It’s not really the stars at the top: Patrick Kane is still here. Alex DeBrincat is here. Seth Jones may not quite live up to the $9.5 million cap hit he’ll have starting next season but he’s still pretty damn good.

Know what the Blackhawks are missing, though? All of these key pieces in the middle that complimented the stars at the top when Chicago was at the height of its powers.

You know all these names: the Dave Bollands, the Kris Versteegs, the Andrew Ladds, the Johnny Oduyas, the Andrew Shaws, the Dustin Byfugliens and on and on and on. That’s how a team wins three Cups in six seasons.

For a more recent example, just look at the Tampa Bay Lightning. Sure, they’ve got incredible star players, including Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov and Viktor Hedman and Andrei Vasilevskiy. Stamkos was a No. 1 overall pick, Hedman No. 2. But Vasilevskiy was a No. 19 pick. Kucherov came in the second round at No. 58.

And there are so many other key contributors to the Lightning from this season and seasons prior who did not arrive with as much fanfare:

  • Brayden Point had 58 points in 66 games this season and has average 0.88 PPG in his career, including 92 in 79 games during the ‘18-19 season. He was a third-round pick (79th overall) in 2014.
  • Alex Killorn had 59 points in 82 games this season and has hovered between 0.5 and 0.75 points per game for damn near his entire 10-year career. He was a third-round pick (77th overall) in 2007.
  • Ondrej Palat is one of the better two-way forwards in the game right now and also racked up 49 points in 77 games this season. He was a seventh-round pick (208th overall) in 2011.
  • Anthony Cirelli is cut from a similar cloth as Palat. He was a third-round pick (72nd overall) in 2015.
  • It’s not just the draft where Tampa is finding these players, either. At the deadline, the Lightning acquired Nick Paul from the Ottawa Senators for the relatively low price of a fourth-round pick and young forward Mathieu Joseph. Paul just delivered two goals during Tampa’s Game 7 win in Toronto.

Obviously, Tampa is the gold standard for building successful hockey dynasties right now. So look at another team for more examples of this: the Calgary Flames, who just won their first playoff series since 2015.

  • Again, their is star power at the top from high draft picks like Matthew Tkachuck (No. 6 overall in 2016) and Noah Hanifin (acquired in the massive Adam Fox trade but a No. 5 pick in 2015) and Elias Lindolm (also acquired in the Fox trade and a No. 5 overall pick in 2013)
  • The team’s leading scorer and primary offensive dynamo is Johnny Gaudreau, a fourth-round pick (104th overall) in 2011
  • Andrew Mangiapane had a respectable 55 points in 82 games and was sixth-round pick (166th overall) in 2015
  • Rasmus Andersson is with Hanifin on the team’s top D pairing and was a second-round pick (53rd overall) in 2015
  • Another key defenseman is Oliver Kylington, a second-round pick (60th overall) in 2015

This song has been sung on multiple episodes of the podcast by yours truly and we’re striking up the band for the chorus once again because it needs to be a central theme of the Blackhawks focus going forward:

The Blackhawks must get better at drafting and developing its own talent if they’re ever going to escape from their current descent beyond mediocrity into borderline irrelevance.

And that’s where we circle back to Bedard. Yes, a player with that much potential would certainly help bridge the gap from where the Blackhawks are to where the Blackhawks want to be. But understand the limitations of what one player who’ll play around 21 or 22 minutes per game — barely over one-third! — is capable of contributing by themselves.

Bedard ending up in Chicago won’t suddenly turn the Blackhawks into Cup contenders. The Blackhawks have had Patrick Kane in or very near his prime for the last five seasons and haven’t won a fucking thing. Even if Bedard ends up being the next Patrick Kane — or whatever fully realized NHL superstar he’ll be compared to — he’d only be one piece. And this team needs several pieces to start winning again. If the team continues at its current rate, Bedard would hit his prime in time to accept the offensive torch from Kane and then glance around at a room full of teammates who aren’t going to provide enough help.

If the Blackhawks organization makes drafting Bedard its primary goal for the next year without working to develop the prospects it already has, then it’ll waste that draft pick just like its wasted countless others over the last decade.