Connor Bedard watch: Which NHL team has best shot at generational talent?

While making the playoffs is the hope of every team, there is a major prize this season for finishing low in the standings.    

This is a strong draft class and if a team wins the lottery, it can select a generational talent in Regina (Saskatchewan) Pats center Connor Bedard.

Bedard, 17, who entered the Western Hockey League draft early as a 15-year-old, had 100 points in 62 games last season and is scoring at a faster pace this season with 64 points in 28 games. He has a 27-game point streak since being shut out in the opener.

The 5-10, 185-pounder also dominated for gold medal-winning Canada at the world junior championships with 23 points in seven games and was named tournament MVP.

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The bottom 11 teams have a chance to land the No. 1 overall pick in the draft lottery. Here’s a look at the teams with the best chances, starting with the last-place team (stats as of Jan. 5; this file will be updated at various points during the season).

Chicago Blackhawks (8-25-4, 20 pts.)

After a decent start, they’re playing like what was expected after they traded Alex DeBrincat and Kirby Dach at the 2022 draft and didn’t qualify Dylan Strome and Dominik Kubalik. They are 2-20-1 since Nov. 12, including losses to the Columbus Blue Jackets and San Jose Sharks, two other teams in the Bedard watch. Star Patrick Kane is dealing with a lower-body injury. The Blackhawks have plenty of unrestricted free agents who could be moved at the deadline, ranging from Max Domi and Andreas Athanasiou to franchise players Kane and Jonathan Toews.

Columbus Blue Jackets (11-24-2, 24 pts.)

That team that landed coveted free agent Johnny Gaudreau isn’t performing as hoped. Defenseman Zach Werenski is out for the season, Patrik Laine has been sidelined twice by injury and once by COVID protocol. The goaltending also has struggled. A Dec. 31 win vs. the Blackhawks created some space between them and last place. Bedard would answer the question of who should play between Gaudreau and Laine.

Anaheim Ducks (11-24-4, 26 pts.)

They added veterans in the offseason to help their talented youngsters, but have started slowly. They didn’t get their first regulation win until Nov. 23 and it took them until Dec. 15-17 to get two in a row. Defenseman Jamie Drysdale is likely out for the season. Goalie John Gibson has played well since returning from an injury, including his first shutout since November 2021. General manager Pat Verbeek showed his willingness last season to trade pending UFAs and that list includes John Klingberg and three other defensemen.

San Jose Sharks (12-20-7, 31 pts.)

Erik Karlsson’s resurgent Norris Trophy-caliber season is keeping the Sharks a little more competitive than expected, but they have only four home wins. Mike Grier is in his first season as general manager and could continue to remake this team, as he did with an offseason trade of Brent Burns. Plus, he has to clear some cap space if he’s going to re-sign pending restricted free agent Timo Meier this summer.

Arizona Coyotes (13-19-5, 31 pts.)

The schedule makers didn’t do the rebuilding team any favors, with 20 of the Coyotes’ first 24 games on the road. Of course, that means more games in cozy Mullett Arena down the stretch, and they are 7-3-2 there. A decision has to be made on defenseman Jakob Chychrun, who had expressed interest in a trade.

Montreal Canadiens (15-21-3, 33 pts.)

The Canadiens had the first pick last season and showed some strong play early in the first full season under coach Martin St. Louis. But they have been free-falling recently. They also hold the first-round pick of the Florida Panthers, who currently sit in the bottom 11.

Philadelphia Flyers (15-17-7, 37 pts.)

Coach John Tortorella has the team playing better than last season, though that hasn’t always translated to wins. The Flyers had a 10-game winless streak following a 7-3-2 start. But they have won their last four, and goalie Carter Hart has returned from an injury.

Vancouver Canucks (17-18-3, 37 pts.)

The Canucks have been inconsistent and have lost three in a row. Bo Horvat is leading the offense but is a pending UFA. No. 1 goalie Thatcher Demko is hurt and wasn’t playing well before the injury.

Other teams

Panthers (17-18-4, 38): They gave up their first-rounder last season for rental defenseman Ben Chiarot. 

Ottawa Senators (18-17-3, 39): They’re not where they want to be after multiple offseason moves, but they have played well lately. 

Detroit Red Wings (16-13-7, 39): They’ve given up at least four goals in six of their last seven games.

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