Connor Bedard will play his first preseason game with the Chicago Blackhawks on Thursday night, ushering in a new era in the Windy City. Gone are the perennial superstars and three-time Stanley Cup champions Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews. No longer are the Hawks a constant threat to come out of the Western Conference come playoff time. Instead, they are one of the worst teams in the NHL, fully committed to a rebuild after the last pieces of the squad that won three Stanley Cups in six seasons have moved on.
But there is hope that the new core will be able to replicate the incredible success of the 2010s Blackhawks, and that all starts with maybe the most hyped prospect in league history in Bedard. The kid is still just 18-years-old, fresh off of ripping up junior hockey. He somehow scored 71 goals and 143 points in just 57 games for the Western Hockey League's Regina Pats, and there's no doubt at all that he will begin the 2023-24 season as the franchise's top-line center.
Expect that Bedard will dazzle the hockey world and easily win the Calder Trophy as the league's top rookie, but how will that translate to team success? Here are three bold predictions for the 2023-24 Chicago Blackhawks.
3) The Hawks still finish last in the West
Despite the excitement that Bedard brings to what would otherwise be a typical rebuilding season in Chicago, it doesn't change the fact that the roster, as currently constructed, is one of the worst in the NHL. Looking at the team's projected line combinations on DailyFaceoff, it's very clear to see that after the top line up front and Seth Jones on the back end, things become very dicey very quickly.
You can argue that there isn't another top-six forward on the roster besides Bedard and recent acquisition Taylor Hall. There are a few young players to keep an eye on next year, including Taylor Raddysh, Lukas Reichel and Andreas Athanasiou, but none who figure to put up more than 50 points.
It's even worse on the back end; on opening night, the Hawks will roll out a left defensive side that features Wyatt Kaiser, Kevin Korchinski and Jarred Tonordi. It goes without saying that that really is not an NHL-level trio at all. The right side is more promising with Jones, Connor Murphy and Nikita Zaitsev, but the 2023-24 Blackhawks will likely spend a lot of time in their own zone.
Petr Mrazek will handle goaltending duties in the Windy City after the 31-year-old posted a brutal .894 save percentage and 3.66 goals against average over 39 games for the team last year. Once a very serviceable starter, he should be a backup now, and could be the weakest starting goalie out of all 32 teams on opening night.
You probably get the point. Connor Bedard is exciting, but Chicago is bad, and expect them to be in the basement of the Western Conference regardless of how well their prized rookie plays.
2) Seth Jones turns back the clock, scores 60 points
Seth Jones will be looking for a better individual season after a down year in 2022-23. Still an above-average offensive defenseman, he will man the powerplay in Chicago again in 2023-24, as he looks to improve on a 37-point showing last year. The difference this season is Hall and Bedard. With both of those players on the PP, the team figures to score more goals, and therefore Jones' individual production should see an increase as well.
The 28-year-old is just one season removed from a 51-point-in-78-game showing, and I believe the Arlington, TX native will surprise this year, and score 10 goals and 60 points exposed to Hall and Bedard on PP1.
1) With Taylor Hall on his wing, Bedard eclipses 80 points, wins Calder
Picking Connor Bedard to win the Calder Trophy is the norm for the most highly-touted prospect since Connor McDavid. But with elite puck skills, a lightning-fast release and incredible vision, the 18-year-old genuinely should make an impact right away. He's already shown chemistry with Taylor Hall on the top line, and those two figure to be joined at the hip for the entire season.
A former Hart Trophy winner just five seasons ago, Hall has had a few tough seasons but remains a star player. Playing with Bedard will be beneficial to both of them, and Hall should easily improve upon his 36-point showing in 2022-23 with the Boston Bruins. He was a complementary player in Massachusetts, but will be a go-to option along with Bedard as he looks to return to form at the United Center.
In seven months from now, the Chicago Blackhawks will probably finish the campaign as a bottom-three team in the Western Conference. But if Connor Bedard scores 80+ points and wins the Calder Trophy, as he should, it will be considered a successful season in Illinois.