The winners of the 2023 NHL Draft lottery were incredibly fotunate to land the services of Connor Bedard, a draft prospect out of Vancouver who many have labeled as a franchise-changing player.
Monday, May 8 was circled on the calendars of NHL teams for a long time, as they hoped to earn the rights to a player that can change the narrative of the organization and provide a massive boost to their future projections.
Fast forward to today, where the Chicago Blackhawks won the Bedard sweepstakes and signed him to a three-year, entry-level contract with the organization and fans eagerly waiting to see No. 98 take the ice for the first time.
It's widely expected that Bedard will come in and make an immediate impact in Chicago, but just how big of an impact will he make throughout the NHL?
As we get ready for his debut on Tuesday, Oct. 10 in Pittsburgh against his idol Sidney Crosby and the Penguins on national TV, let's examine what that impact might look like.
When Alex Lafreniere came into the league after being the first overall pick of the 2020 draft, the NHLPA and NHL granted an exemption to Upper Deck to allow Lafreniere to be in early card sets before playing in his first NHL game. I would assume Bedard gets the same treatment that Lafreniere did.
Currently, Bedard is featured on Upper Deck cards through Team Canada products, as well as team sets during his time with the Regina Pats and it's safe to say the cards are a hot commodity. According to a story from Sports Collectors Daily, a Team Canada Juniors card sold for $7,999 has been the highest price paid for a Bedard card at this point.
On Check Out My Cards, Bedard is featured with prices in a wide range. With the highest price listed at $2,781.10 and multiple others surpassing the $1,000 mark, it's clear that these cards are already extrememly valuable without him playing a second of a shift in the NHL.
With the projection of being the star that many believe Bedard can become, those prices should continue to skyrocket when he starts his career in Chicago and will likely be one of the most sought after rookie cards in recent memory.
Some of the most exepnsive cards of all time are different rookie cards and varieties of Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, Bobby Hull, Alexander Ovechkin, Sidney Crosby and Connor McDavid. These cards have sold for hunderds of thousands to millions of dollars at different auctions.
Heading into his NHL career, Bedard has been compared a lot to the latter two in Crosby and McDavid. With Bedard's cards being as valuable as they already are, it seems like there is a possibility that he can follow a close trajectory to those two in terms of what their card value has turned into down the line.
The No. 98 sweater has already been in high demand since the Blackhawks drafted Bedard. Playing in one of the biggest markets in the NHL should set him up to see his name frequently ranked as one of the top jersey sales in the league.
Looking at a few recent first overall picks, McDavid ranked 10th overall after his rookie season and Auston Matthews was 4th overall when he came into the league. After last year, 2019 top pick Jack Hughes found himself in the top five of jersey sales following a breakout season.
Over the last 10 years, there were four times where both Kane and Toews were in the top five in NHL jersey sales and a total of five times that at least one of them were penciled into the same criteria.
Obviously, the successful run the Hawks were on during that time helped the jersey sales, however, it goes to show where stars in the city of Chicago can rank among jersey sales throughout the league.
Bedard not only has the Chicago market wanting his jersey, but I assume there will be plenty of Canadian fans who want to support their most recent prodigy throughout his NHL career. He should find himself consistently in the top ten of jersey sales and I wouldn't be surprised at all if he ended up being a mainstay in the top five.
Some have debated that the current era of hockey we are in is one of the most exciting ones in terms of the talent and skill across the league. Overall, it makes for an entertaining product and there are intriguing reasons to watch any game on any given night.
A few years ago, the NHL struck a deal with Disney and Turner Sports for regular season TV rights. It has made viewing out of market games a lot easier for fans, as it requires an ESPN+ subscription to view out of market games.
According to a story from Sports Business Journal, viewership was up roughly 18% from the previous year and the 460,000 average viewers per game on ABC, ESPN and TNT is the highest average since 2016-17, after the first year of the new deal.
In a story published by SportsPro, they listed the NHL regular season viewership as down 2% in 2022-23, but mentioned that the NHL was stacked up against the NFL during six TV windows. Looking into it further, they mentioned that there was a 6% increase in viewership on ABC and ESPN when you exclude those six games.
When looking at viewership following the debut of a big prospect who went 1st overall, the results are a little scattered. Most recenly, McDavid helped the league generate +8% in viewership following the 2015 season, while Matthews (-11%) and Hughes (-1%) all saw decreases after their rookie campaigns.
The Blackhawks average viewers during their cup runs of 5.196M (2010), 5.762M (2013) and 5.530M (2015) are all some of the best Stanley Cup views since the lockout ended.
Assuming he is the player everyone thinks he is, the Blackhawks being intriguing with a young star like Bedard should do good things for the NHL's viewership. Although it might take some for the team to be contenders again, when they do reach that point they bring a lot of eyes to the sport of hockey.
Regardless, getting Bedard to play in a large market like Chicago will help with the NHL's viewership, even while the team is rebuilding. There are going to be a lot of fans in the U.S. and Canada who don't want to miss a moment of his career from start to finish.
A way to grow the sport of hockey as well, is through the development of young stars and their marketability. Bedard has already locked up some endorsement deals and that will only continue to grow. Once he takes the ice and starts showing off his skill in the league, he will have a lot of fans in his corner with the way he plays and his highlight reel capabilities.
Although it's an impact on a local level, the city of Chicago has already bought in to Bedard mania by purchasing $5.2M in new season tickets just 12 hours after they won the lottery. With the city behind him and ready to be invested, that impact will spread throughout the rest of the league.
Connor Bedard has been a special and prized prospect for a long time. From being the first player ever to be granted early exceptional status in the WHL, his game has already made an impact in the sport and that will continue to be the case as he gets ready to begin his NHL career.