The Chicago Blackhawks won the NHL draft lottery and the chance to select Connor Bedard long before Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly revealed it on national television.
The process to determine who got the No. 1 pick and Bedard, considered hockey’s top prospect since Connor McDavid, actually wrapped up about 80 minutes earlier in a small room at NHL Network studios. It also ended with the Anaheim Ducks getting the No. 2 pick.
The Associated Press was one of three media outlets represented among the roughly 20 people there to witness the potentially franchise-altering drawing. It was filmed for posterity and posted on the league’s website.
Here’s an inside look at how it all happened:
Daly, Commissioner Gary Bettman and several league executives milled about the room in the time leading up to the drawing. The lottery odds of every team that did not make the playoffs were frozen on one TV screen, while a spreadsheet showing an Excel sheet of the top 16 picks filled another.
Daly left the room, knowing nothing about the results he would later reveal.
A briefcase full of lottery balls sat on a table next to the blue machine featuring the 2023 NHL draft lottery logo. Senior executive vice president Steve Mayer told stories about draft lotteries past and said the time between the third and fourth (and final) lottery balls was the most dramatic.
At about 6:40 p.m. EDT, final preparations were made for the event, which required sequestering and technology blackouts to avoid anyone in the room leaking the results of the lottery. Phones were collected in manila envelopes and stored away before the proceedings began, and Bettman announced: “If anyone’s not planning to stay in the room, now is the time to leave.”
With a camera rolling, Bettman started the proceedings by declaring it was approximately 6:45 p.m. and holding up the day’s editions of the Bergen Record, Wall Street Journal and New York Times as evidence it was indeed May 8, 2023.
Bettman explained the rules of the lottery, from the draws for the top two picks to the changes put in place in 2021 to limit how many teams could move up to No. 1. He laid out how there are 1,001 possible combinations — one being an automatic redraw — to provide precise odds for the winner.
The league-worst Anaheim Ducks went in with 185 winning combinations but in reality had 255 because no team can move up more than 10 spots. The Columbus Blue Jackets had 135 and the Blackhawks 115 different winning combinations.
With 11 teams known to be in the running and the rules clear, Bettman introduced Scott Clarke from the accounting firm Ernst & Young and lottery technician Martin Gorbachik from Smartplay International. Bettman mentioned the presence of two team representatives, Arizona’s Alex Meruelo Jr. and Philadelphia’s Tom Minton, and media members who were all asked to wave to the camera.
“Are there any questions?” Bettman asked. “I hear no questions. I see no hands going up. I think it is time to proceed.”
Gorbachik showed each of the 14 lottery balls, numbered 1-14, and placed them in the machine one by one. Bettman then asked NHL VP of events Thomas Meaney to look at the wall, turn his back to the machine and call for a number to be drawn every 20 seconds.
When Meaney called, “Draw,” the No. 5 came out first. No. 13 followed, then No. 4.
Only a few seconds passed between the third and fourth balls coming out of the machine, but at that moment several teams still had a shot at Bedard. The No. 1 pick would have gone to Anaheim had it been 6, 7 or 10; Columbus if it were 1, San Jose if it were 2 or 12, Washington if it were 3, St. Louis if it were 8 and Arizona if it were 11.
It was 9. Bettman turned to Clarke, who read from the list of combinations that the winner was the Chicago Blackhawks. With no pomp or circumstance, Bettman said, “The Chicago Blackhawks will have the first selection of the 2023 NHL draft” and asked Gorbachik to reload the machine. He did so from 1-14.
The same process happened for the second pick, with 9, 8, 10 and 6 coming up. Clarke at 7:02 p.m. told Bettman that combination belonged to the Anaheim Ducks, who lost their final 13 games to sink to last place among 32 teams.
“So we have Chicago with the first pick, Anaheim with the second and sequenced down from there,” Bettman said. “This concludes the drawing. Thank you all for being here and please stay out of communication until the results are formally announced.”
In the hour between the drawing of the top two picks and the beginning of the show revealing the results, Bettman remained in the room with grandson Matthew and the other witnesses sworn to secrecy and unable to communicate with the outside world.
NHL executive VP of events Dean Matsuzaki and others put together the cards of the picks from No. 16 down with the right team logos attached. Bettman was asked to double-check the work just before 7:30 p.m.
Several minutes later, Clarke carried the stack of cards out of the room and into the studio with Daly from which the live broadcast emanated. At 8:12 p.m., Daly began revealing the picks from 16 down to 3.
Blackhawks general manager Kyle Davidson had memorized the order of teams and knew they were still in it when it got down to the final three.
“I was just happy that we got that far,” Davidson said. “I was mentally preparing for 4, 5 because that’s what the odds kind of said were going to happen, so prepare for that but hope for the best, and things broke our way.”
Daly revealed the Columbus Blue Jackets logo for the third pick at 8:21 p.m. Asked what he was thinking at that moment, Anaheim GM Pat Verbeek said, “Turn the card.”
“Let’s kill the suspense here and get after it,” Verbeek said afterward.
Daly turned over the card showing the Blackhawks had won the top pick, with the Ducks second.
“We ended up picking 2, so I’m excited,” Verbeek said. “We have a chance to pick a player that is going to be an outstanding player.”
Canadian forward Adam Fantilli, Sweden’s Leo Carlsson and Russia’s Matvei Michkov are among the top prospects available with the other top-five picks.
—Stephen Whyno, The Associated Press