Draft lottery drama: Ducks will pick 2nd overall in 2023 NHL Draft

The Ducks just had the worst season in franchise history – and the worst overall in the NHL this past season – and the bad news continued on Monday.

They went into the NHL’s annual draft lottery with the best odds to win (25.5%) but the reality was still a three out of four chance that they might not end up with the No. 1 overall draft pick in June.

And that’s exactly what happened.

The numbers came up for the Chicago Blackhawks who moved up two places to the No. 1 spot. The Ducks slid back to No. 2 and even though they will get an impactful player at that position, the sense is that the gap between the best player and the second-best in this year’s draft is wide. The NHL’s draft will be held June 28-29 in Nashville.

“If you had asked me three or four days before the season was coming to a close and you told me we were going to get the No. 2 pick, I would have been extremely excited,” Ducks general manager Pat Verbeek said in a conference call.

“It looks like (Regina Pats center) Connor Bedard will go No. 1. But now we get to determine and pick the player we want versus if we would have slid to three, someone else would have dictated. Now we get to make the pick.”

Like a lot of anxious onlookers waiting to see the outcome, Verbeek was asked about the emotions he was feeling leading up to the reveal.

“Turn the card,” he said. “Let’s kill the suspense here and get after it. Turn the card. We ended up picking two. Like I just said, I’m excited. We have a chance to pick a player that is going to be an outstanding player and add to our group of real good young players.”

The Blackhawks, who had the third-highest odds of winning it at 11.5%, will almost certainly select Bedard, considered the most promising junior prospect since Edmonton Oilers star Connor McDavid. The high-quality consolation prize is expected to be Canadian forward Adam Fantilli, of the University of Michigan, who has star upside as well. But Bedard has long been thought to be in a class by himself – and no matter how the Ducks might frame this, in the immediate aftermath of the lottery process, it’s a massive disappointment.

And it will echo the events of 2005 when the lottery draw came down to Pittsburgh and the Ducks. The Penguins won the draft lottery and took Sidney Crosby and the Ducks selected Bobby Ryan, who became a good player but not a generational superstar like Crosby.

Crosby ultimately changed the course of that franchise.

Losing out on the right to draft Bedard is a blow to an organization that is at a pivotal point in the rebuilding process. Had the Ducks won the Bedard Lottery, that would have probably charted a different path than having the chance to draft a really good player such as Fantilli, Swedish forward Leo Carlsson, American center Will Smith or Russian forward Matvei Michkov.

“When you look at our prospects, I think where we need to get deeper is at the forward position,” Verbeek said. “Building any championship team, you have to have a really good goaltender and strong defense and I think you need to be strong up the middle. That’s how I’m going to be trying to look to build our team and make it stronger.”

They’ll probably get somebody who will play in the NHL for a long time, but players like Bedard are called generational for a reason. They don’t come along every year.

The lottery result could possibly change the Ducks’ timetable for hiring a new coach. Verbeek had hoped to complete the process before the NHL draft.

“I’m not sure now. I probably would have had more time if we would have won the lottery,” he said. “Now I’ve got some more work to do. So I’m optimistic I can get there with a new coach announcement before the draft but not holding my breath to it.”

It’s the second time the Blackhawks have won the lottery in the past two decades, and the previous victory in 2007 netted them Patrick Kane, who helped them win the Stanley Cup three times between 2010 and 2015.

Bedard, a native of North Vancouver, British Columbia, led all junior players across Canada with 72 goals and 143 points this past season while playing for Regina of the Western Hockey League. He doesn’t turn 18 until July.

In a pre-taped TV interview that aired on ESPN, Bedard said of his future being determined: “There’s different emotions watching, but I think we’re all just watching as fans. … It’s more for the teams.”

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