Canada's Connor Bedard, right, and Sweden's Calle Odelius chase the puck during the second period of an IIHF world junior hockey championships game Saturday, Dec. 31, 2022, in Halifax, Nova Scotia. (Darren Calabrese/The Canadian Press via AP)

Welcome to Blackburn’s Big Board, a weekly check-in on the hockey things that I currently care about. It’ll go a variety of ways, including teams that are earning my attention, players of note, storylines generating buzz and any other hockey topics that my weird brain finds compelling.

Let the Connor Bedard sweepstakes begin

The 2023 World Junior Championship concluded last week after an absolutely bonkers elimination round, and congratulations are in order for Canada, which repeated as champs and took home its 20th gold medal in the event.

As much as I love to poke the bee’s nest and troll the entire country during the tournament every year, even I have to concede that Canada’s squad had a strong run and thoroughly deserved the crown. It’s good that the Canadians can still win this event even though they haven’t captured a Stanley Cup in the age of the internet. The superiority complex needs to be fueled somehow.

But now with World Juniors behind us, eyes are starting to turn toward Connor Bedard — the 17-year-old top prospect that helped lead Canada to gold, set a new scoring record and won tournament MVP honors.

If any other prospect was nipping at Bedard’s heels ahead of the tourney, it’s probably safe to say he has a healthy lead in the pre-draft rankings again. Recording nine goals and 14 assists during the seven-game tournament — and breaking Eric Lindros' 30-year-old Canada record for most World Junior points — will help accomplish that.

Bedard’s offensive skill set is insane, and he showed flashes of his elite shot release and playmaking ability during Canada’s run, all while he was forced to deal with the fishbowl as an under-18 player at the U20 tournament. That’s how you know it’s real.

I mean, if this sequence had led to a goal, it may have been the greatest assist in the history of the tournament.

With each passing day, it feels safer and safer to attach the infamous G-word (“generational”) to Bedard’s prospect status, especially considering he has 31 goals and 70 points in 29 WHL games this season, including a triumphant six-point night in his return to the league following the WJC. He still owns a healthy league scoring lead despite missing a month of action to play for Canada.

Get ready to hear plenty more about this kid over the next five months or so because he has essentially locked up his status as a consensus No. 1 overall pick, and it doesn’t seem like his pre-draft hype train is going to slow its roll anytime soon. For now, though, Bedard seems very comfortable in letting his play speak for itself, as he declined to comment on himself and his performance (or look ahead to the draft) in the wake of his historic run at the WJC.

Beyond his play on the ice, that’s the kind of stuff that NHL front offices and draft scouts are going to eat it up and use as evidence of Bedard’s humility and leadership, qualities that his teammates have praised him for repeatedly. He’s doing and saying all the right things to this point, and teams are going to grow increasingly desperate to maximize their chances of landing his rights in June.

With that in mind, I wouldn’t be surprised if teams that are currently near the bottom of the NHL standings ramp up their tanking efforts, or if teams look to find creative ways to get their hands on lottery picks in the coming months.

Here’s how the current lottery odds look:

2023 NHL Draft Lottery Odds (as of Jan. 9)
Team Odds for No. 1 pick
1. Chicago Blackhawks 18.5%
2. Columbus Blue Jackets 13.5%
3. Anaheim Ducks 11.5%
4. San Jose Sharks 9.5%
5. Arizona Coyotes 8.5%
6. Montreal Canadiens 7.5%
7. Vancouver Canucks 6.5%
8. Philadelphia Flyers 6.0%
9. Ottawa Senators 5.0%
10. Florida Panthers 3.5%

Frank Seravalli and I discussed the Bedard Sweepstakes and where we would (and would not) like to see him end up playing in the NHL next season, and you can check out that discussion below.


Which NHL team will win the Bedard Sweepstakes?

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