Senators’ Josh Norris, who returned 3 games back, will need season-ending surgery

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A team that finished poorly this season has a chance to win a major prize.

That’s Regina (Saskatchewan) Pats 5-10, 185-pound center Connor Bedard, 17, a generational talent who was confirmed as the top prospect in North America in NHL Central Scouting’s mid-season rankings.

He has been considered the top pick for 2023 for years and had contributed this season by being named tournament MVP (23 points in seven games) at the world youth championship. He leads the Western Hockey League with 81 points in 33 games (including a 32-game active point streak) after scoring 100 points in 62 games last season.

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With the winner of April’s draft lottery able to move up just 10 spots this year, the bottom 11 teams have a chance to land Bedard. Here’s a look at the teams with the best odds, starting with the team in last place (stats as of January 22nd; this file will be updated at various times throughout the season).

Columbus Blue Jackets (14-30-2, 30 pt.)

They defeated the San Jose Sharks, another Bedard watch team, overcoming two deficits and an own goal. It didn’t help them move up, however, as the Chicago Blackhawks kept winning. The Blue Jackets made the biggest splash of the season by signing Johnny Gaudreau, who will play in Calgary on January 23 and may be encouraged by Flames fans. The team, however, has been plagued by injuries, including No. 1 defenseman Zach Werenski and top six forward Jakub Voracek. They have won four of their last 19 games. The biggest question when Gaudreau signed was who would be the center for him and Patrik Laine. It could be Bedard next season.

Their minus-86 goal differential is the worst in the league. That dropped a bit when they scored five unanswered goals to beat the Blue Jackets 5-3, but picked up when they lost 6-3 to the Buffalo Sabers in the next game. General manager Pat Verbeek dealt UFAs Josh Manson, Hampus Lindholm and Rickard Rakell near the trade deadline last season. This year’s UFA list includes John Klingberg and three other defensemen.

Chicago Blackhawks (14-27-4, 32 pts.)

The Blackhawks were expected to finish low after parting ways with Alex DeBrincat, Kirby Dach, Dylan Strome and Dominik Kubalik in the offseason. But they won six of seven before losing on January 22 to the Los Angeles Kings to escape the vault and move up two spots. The Blackhawks have plenty of unrestricted free agents who could be moved at the deadline, from Max Domi and Andreas Athanasiou to franchise players Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews (whose contracts required to ignore their immobility).

Clayton Keller scored a hat trick in a 4-1 win against the Vegas Golden Knights to end the Coyotes’ two-game scoreless streak. The rebuilding team has played a large number of its games on the road as it shares the 5,000-seat Mullett Arena with Arizona State, and its road losing streak is 15 games. Defenseman Jakob Chychrun has played well since returning from injury but had also expressed interest in a trade. Bedard would be a good selling point as voters choose whether to approve a new precinct in Tempe in a special election in May.

San Jose Sharks (14-25-9, 37 pts.)

Resurgent defenseman Erik Karlsson led the Sharks to a come-from-behind victory against the Dallas Stars with his third four-point game of the season. But in their next two games, the Sharks blew a two-goal lead in a loss to the last place Blue Jackets and were shut out by the Boston Bruins. First-year general manager Mike Grier could choose to continue to remake this team, as he did with the offseason trade of Brent Burns. In addition, he has a decision to wait for restricted free agent Timo Meier, their leading goal scorer.

The declining Canucks made their first NHL coaching change this season, replacing Bruce Boudreau with Rick Tocchet on January 22nd. Tocchet, who had been with TNT, was previously the head coach of the Lightning and Coyotes. Assistant Trent Cull was also dismissed and Adam Foote and Sergei Gonchar joined Tocchet’s coaching staff. The team finally made a game out of Boudreau’s appearance. Trailing 3-0, Vancouver rallied to make it 3-2 and Boudreau scored on an Edmonton goal to stop the visitors before the Oilers scored an empty netter. “They tried their heart,” Boudreau told reporters, saying players came into his office on their own to talk to him. Fans chanted, “Bruce, that’s it,” for the second game in a row. There may be more moves to come. Canucks president Jim Rutherford said last week that he will have to do “major surgery” on the roster “between now and the start of next season” to keep the cap under control. He also admitted that the team’s “best prospect” offer to UFA Bo Horvat could be low based on the captain’s career season. Bedard is from North Vancouver, British Columbia.

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Just as the Canadiens were escaping from a 1-9-1 free fall, the injuries began to pile up. The biggest hitter was No. 2, Cole Caufield, who will have shoulder surgery at the end of the season. Injured players include Brendan Gallagher, Jonathan Drouin, Jake Evans and No. 1 overall pick Juraj Slafkovsky. Despite being beaten, the Canadiens beat Toronto in overtime. Montreal, which finished last in 2021-22 and won the lottery, also picks Florida in the first round, but the Panthers have moved out of the bottom 11.

The Senators announced that forward Josh Norris will undergo season-ending surgery. He was initially injured in October and returned on 18 January, scoring one goal in three games. He was a 35-goal scorer last season. Coach DJ Smith had already said that he was going to change his front nine. “There are guys that are down every night, and that can’t continue,” he said. “We’re going to man every line and we’re going to grind our way out of here.” The Senators have lost six of their last eight, including several shutouts.

Other teams

Detroit Red Wings (19-18-8, 46): They made a major renovation in the offseason and were 11-5-4 at the end of November before their comeback. Infielder Tyler Bertuzzi is out for the third time this season, though this time it’s day-to-day.

Philadelphia Flyers (20-21-7, 47): They pushed their way back to .500 after ending a 10-game winless streak, but have since gone 2-3 to fall seven points out of a playoff spot.

St. Louis Blues (23-21-3, 49): The streaky Blues (both good and bad) fell into the mix with a loss to the Blackhawks. Injured All-Star forward Vladimir Tarasenko could return soon, although he is also a potential trade candidate as an upcoming UFA.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Which NHL team best drafted Connor Bedard at No. 1?

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