Why Connor Bedard can fix the Blackhawks, plus the oral history of Giannis Antetokounmpo’s incredible rise

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Good morning to everyone but especially to…

The NHL is back on center stage in the sports world tonight with the 2023 NHL Draft getting underway. And much like the NBA Draft last week, there’s a no-doubt grand prize going No. 1. The Blackhawks will select Connor Bedard with hopes of him pulling the historic franchise out of a half-decade’s worth of struggles.

The 17-year-old star’s resume suggests he’ll be able to do just that. Our Austin Nivison stacked up Bedard’s credentials with recent top draft picks, and even the 2023 Hart Trophy winner barely competes:

Nivison: “Connor McDavid was the definition of a generational prospect. He had the size, speed, production and intangibles necessary to succeed at the NHL level, and he has delivered on the goods… The fact that Bedard has the statistics and the accolades to match McDavid only makes him more tantalizing to NHL scouts. … No matter how you slice it, Bedard is in rare air in terms of his pre-draft resume.”
The Blackhawks also supported Bedard by adding Taylor Hall and Nick Foligno in a trade with the Bruins. That hasn’t been the only big pre-draft movement.

Tyler Toffoli is headed from the Flames to the Devils.
The Kings acquired Pierre-Luc Dubois from the Jets.
The Avalanche dealt Alex Newhook to the Canadiens.
Kevin Hayes is going from the Flyers to the Blues.
The draft starts tonight at 7 p.m.

Honorable mentions
Dolphins-Chiefs tickets in Germany sold out in 15 minutes.
Leonard Fournette somehow avoided injury after his car caught on fire.
Julio Urías is expected to return this weekend.
The 2023-24 NHL schedule is out.
Not so honorable mentions
If things go more haywire for the Mets than they already have, Max Scherzer would consider waiving his no-trade clause for the “right situation.”
Josh Jacobs could miss the start of training camp if he doesn’t get a new deal.
Shakira Austin’s hip injury is a big setback for the Mystics.
Former Arkansas, NFL quarterback Ryan Mallett dies at 35 🏈
Ryan Mallett died Tuesday in an apparent drowning in Florida, per reports. He was 35 years old.

Mallett was a highly touted recruit who chose Michigan in 2007 and played one year there before transferring to Arkansas.
Mallett starred for the Razorbacks in 2009 and 2010, setting program single-season records for passing yards and passing touchdowns in 2010 that still stand today.
The Patriots drafted Mallett in the third round in 2011, and he also spent time with the Texans and Ravens. His last year in the NFL was 2017.
In 2022, Mallett became head football coach at White Hall High School in White Hall, Arkansas.
Oral history of Giannis Antetokounmpo’s incredible rise 🏀
Giannis Antetokounmpo, 2013 NBA Draft
Getty Images
Ten years and one day ago, the Cavaliers took Anthony Bennett first overall in the 2013 NBA Draft. It was a stunning choice that didn’t work out — Bennett was out of the league by 2017 — and in a draft full of uncertainty, the guys after Bennett proved hit-or-miss as well.

At 15th overall, the Bucks took a little-known, long-limbed teenager from Greece named Giannis Antetokounmpo. The rest — two MVPs, an NBA championship and much more — is decorated history still in the making. To look back on a decade of Giannis, our Jack Maloney assembled an outstanding oral history of Antetokounmpo’s rise to stardom. Here’s one of my favorite parts:

Jrue Holiday: “He got hurt in the [2021] conference finals against Atlanta and that first practice back, our first Finals practice — it was the day before the game and it was the first time we were seeing him practice — he was going like 150 miles an hour. And we were like, ‘OK, slow the f— down, man. We just got you back and we’re gonna need you to play tomorrow.'”
This is a really fun piece featuring quotes from Antetokounmpo, his teammates, his coaches and plenty of opponents such as LeBron James and Draymond Green. Be sure to read it.

Who will go No. 1 in MLB Draft? Pirates have SEC, high school options ⚾
Getty Images
With the college baseball season officially over and the MLB Draft approaching, the Pirates are on the clock. It’s a huge opportunity for a team that has shown some positive signs but still needs a lot of help.

Lucky for them, our R.J. Anderson has five potential options for the Buccos, and three of them were in the College World Series Finals: LSU pitcher Paul Skenes, LSU outfielder Dylan Crew and Florida outfielder Wyatt Langford. You’ve probably seen those names before — in this very newsletter, in fact — but R.J. says there are two other names from the high school ranks that could be in play:

Anderson: “3. Walker Jenkins, OF, South Brunswick HS (NC): Jenkins appears to be the industry’s preference among the high-school outfielders because of his more certain offensive projections. 4. Max Clark, CF, Franklin Community HS (IN): Often compared to Cubs prospect Pete Crow-Armstrong. Clark is a surefire center fielder with legitimate offensive upside thanks to a fast bat and wheels.”
We can go on and on about the prospects — R.J. has full scouting reports for the top 30 — but what’s important to remember is it’s not just about the player. It’s about the team’s approach, too:

Anderson: “There are, essentially, two strategies forward for the Pirates. The first is to take the best player available. That would be Crews, provided Pittsburgh’s front office and scouting department share the overall industry’s evaluation. The other strategy, which arguably should be employed only when there’s not a clear-cut No. 1 player in the class, is the same portfolio approach that has been popularized by the Houston Astros and Baltimore Orioles. Essentially, it involves the team taking the “cheapest” of the top tier of players, and then redirecting their savings toward players who slip over signability concerns.”
You can see R.J.’s full thoughts here and Mike Axisa’s latest mock here.

NFL’s top 25 players 25 or younger: Offensive superstars on top 🏈
Claire Komarek, CBS Sports
Ah, to be young and at the top of your sport. Our Cody Benjamin ranked the 25 best NFL players 25 or younger, and it’s riddled with stars that make me excited about the league’s present and future (what doesn’t make me excited is that, at 26, I’m older than everyone on this list for the first time ever. But we don’t have to get into that).

Coming in first among the young stars — and I don’t think it’s any debate — is…

Benjamin: “1. Justin Jefferson — Jefferson’s off to the best start by any receiver in NFL history, elevating his annual yardage total from 1,400 to 1,616 to 1,809 with ease. He’s not invincible, but he’s been close to it, working almost every secondary he’s faced with smooth, speedy route-running and a knack for clutch big plays.”
Jefferson landed fifth on this list last year, so his superstardom was already well established. But the No. 2 player this year didn’t make last year’s list whatsoever.

Benjamin: “2. Jalen Hurts — In three seasons, Hurts has gone from scrambler to serviceable to bona-fide star under center, and truthfully, he’s been getting better every year since the start of college. Always respected for his unshakeable resolve and work ethic, the QB unleashed vastly improved downfield touch and accuracy en route to the Eagles’ Super Bowl appearance.”
Hurts’ impressive jump also got me thinking about which player could make a similar leap from outside the top 25 this year to high on the list next year, and I’m going with Christian Watson. From Weeks 10-18 last year, only three qualifying wide receivers — Davante Adams, Jerry Jeudy and Jefferson — recorded a higher yards per target. Watson is a big play waiting to happen, and I have high hopes.

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