The prized phenom isn’t even on the team… yet… but Chicago is cashing in after securing the No. 1 pick in the upcoming NHL Draft.
Everyone and their mother has heard of Victor Wembanyama and the expected impact he’s going to have in the NBA when drafted this summer. But did you know there’s a Wemby analogue — well, sort of — set to take the NHL by storm in the coming years?
Although he doesn’t stand 7-foot-3 like his hoops counterpart, Connor Bedard is also projected to be taken No. 1 overall in the upcoming NHL Draft, with analysts across the board are calling him one of the best prospects they’ve seen in recent memory. The Athletic recently conducted an executive poll in which it ranked the No. 1 picks from the last decade with Bedard thrown into the mix — the result was a No. 2 ranking for Bedard that placed him behind only two-time Hart Trophy winner Connor McDavid, the Edmonton Oilers center who racked up 153 total points and 64 goals this season.
If Bedard gets anywhere close to that production, the Chicago Blackhawks, who hold the No. 1 pick in this year’s draft after winning the lottery with the third-best odds, should be pleased.
In fact, as it relates to their bottom line, they’re already reaping the benefits of Bedard despite not even drafting him yet. More on that below.
A team-altering prospect is just what Chicago needs after parting ways with franchise legends Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews, and with Blackhawks expected to take Bedard when on the clock late next month, fans in the Windy City are buying into the hype.
According to Sportico, the Blackhawks sold over 500 season ticket packages — good for roughly $2.5 million — in just an hour and a half after learning they secured the top overall pick and the right to select Bedard. As of Tuesday morning, according to ESPN, revenue from season tickets sold jumped to $5.2 million.
“We haven’t stopped smiling, and the phones haven’t stopped ringing,” President of Business Operations Jaime Faulkner told Sportico.
For reference, the maximum amount Bedard could earn for the upcoming 2023-24 campaign is just north of $4.5 million.
This is fueled by hype, sure, but don’t let that distract you from the fact that scouts around the league truly see a future superstar in this kid.
“Bedard is a potential franchise-changing No. 1 prospect. His skill and shot are legit game-breaking attributes,” Corey Pronman, hockey prospect analyst for The Athletic, said. “His ability to beat defenders one-on-one is among the best I’ve ever seen by a 17-year-old, and the pace at which he displays that elite skill is going to allow him to execute those type of skilled plays in the NHL. Bedard is a highly imaginative puckhandler and a very creative passer. That, combined with the fact his wrist shot is a top-tier NHL weapon from anywhere in the offensive zone, makes him a projected nightmare for NHL coaches to stop on the power play.”
While Pronman admitted the word “generational” is tough to define, a rival GM had no problem calling him a “generational talent who can change the complexion of a franchise” to ESPN.
The ticket buzz is nice, but the money won’t stop flowing there — just wait until Bedard jerseys start getting sold. Or how about the simple fact that fans will return to games to get to see the prized prospect in action with their own eyes?
Consider this: This current season was the lowest in terms of attendance since 2007-08 for the Blackhawks, who tied for the second-worst record in the NHL. It wasn’t too long ago they were packing the United Center as the league leader in attendance, but the recent play has diverted fans elsewhere.
With Bedard almost certainly entering in the picture, the numbers have a chance to skyrocket in the seasons to come. It is still Chicago, after all — a sports-crazed city that just needed a reason to get behind its Hawks again.
Now, they’ve found one.
Even if he hasn’t quite been fitted for his first jersey adorned in red, black, and white quite yet.
Who’s No. 1? It may not be who you think — from the grizzled vets to the fantastic phenoms, check out all the highest-paid hockey players on the ice this season….
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