Regina prepares to say goodbye after Chicago wins Connor Bedard sweepstakes

Connor Bedard is one step closer to being drafted into the NHL. Chicago will pick first overall at the 2023 draft in June.  (Dan Plaster/CBC - image credit)
Connor Bedard is one step closer to being drafted into the NHL. Chicago will pick first overall at the 2023 draft in June. (Dan Plaster/CBC - image credit)

The next big thing in hockey is one step closer to stepping up to the NHL.

On Monday, Chicago won the league's draft lottery and will get the chance to select Connor Bedard as the first overall pick.

The teenage phenom has made a habit of exceeding the already lofty expectations set for him, easily breaking decades-old records and establishing himself as the biggest prospect since Connor McDavid entered the NHL eight years ago.

"It's remarkable. He's only 17 years old. I don't even think Sidney Crosby and Connor McDavid had this much hype," said Dante De Caria, the manager of hockey communications for the Regina Pats and the team's play-by-play announcer.

'We'll remember him proudly and fondly': sportswriter

As Bedard's future comes into focus, the city he has called home for the past two years is preparing to say goodbye.

Bedard's record setting performance at the world junior men's hockey championship — and the fact he is the presumptive first overall NHL draft pick — helped sell out arenas across Western Canada during the latter half of the Regina Pats 2023 campaign.

It's not just Bedard's all-star talent that has made him so valuable to the Regina Pats, according to Darrell Davis, a local sportswriter.

"He did all the things they asked for him. He'd show up at the Outdoor Hockey League. He'd show up to the school to school visits. He signed the autographs that needed to be signed," Davis told CBC News on Tuesday.

"When kids were brought into the dressing room and teams were brought to the dressing room, he did everything right. He tried to be a member of this community. So I think we'll remember him proudly and fondly."

WATCH| Why the future is bright for hockey star Connor Bedard:

Bedard may not have an easy time if star-hungry Chicago drafts him as expected. The team is looking for a new face of the franchise as it moves on from forwards Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews, Davis said.

Bedard would likely be a better fit with the young nucleus of the Anaheim Ducks, who will pick second overall in the draft, he said.

While many things can change in the next month, Davis does not expect Chicago to make any pick but Bedard.

The Regina sportswriter said Bedard's speed, the way he creates offensive opportunities and how he is almost always thinking two steps ahead of his opponents make the 17-year-old NHL-ready.

"He's got to go first. If Chicago doesn't take him, oh my goodness, call the cops. There's something wrong with that franchise if they don't take him," Davis said.

Bigger than hockey

Bedard's talent on the ice is apparent to anyone who's had the opportunity to see him play.

But for people like De Caria who got to know Bedard personally, the 17-year-old's actions off the ice are just as exceptional.

"He's always really caring about other people. If he feels someone is down — whether it's a teammate or a staff member or somebody around the rink — he's always willing to say hi and try to see what's wrong, and try to see how he can do his part to kind of bring them up," De Caria said.

Regina Mayor Sandra Masters said she believes that whatever team picks Bedard will be getting an excellent hockey player and an excellent man.

"When you listen to him answer questions from the press, he's about team, he's about family, he's about sportsmanship," Masters said during a news conference Tuesday.

"I can't wait to continue watching him. I hope all of Regina and all of Saskatchewan just continues to watch this kid and root for him."

The 2023 NHL Draft is scheduled for June 28 and 29 in Nashville, Tenn.