Adam Fantilli not worried about being overshadowed at NHL draft; return to Michigan still an option

NHL draft prospect Adam Fantilli smiles during a youth hockey clinic, Tuesday, June 27, 2023, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/George Walker IV)

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — In a different year, this NHL draft might have been considered the chase for Adam Fantilli as the top pick rather than the Connor Bedard sweepstakes.

Fantilli’s got the size at 6-foot-2 and 195 pounds, and a proven ability to put the puck in the net. The pandemic led the Canadian to the U.S., where he became only the third freshman to win college hockey’s Hobey Baker player of the year award joining Jack Eichel (2015) and Hall of Famer Paul Kariya (1993).


Whatever twists of fate might have Fantilli headed to Anaheim with the No. 2 pick overall or Columbus at No. 3 instead of Chicago with the first selection Wednesday night, the center insists he has no regrets about what might have been.

“You can’t really play another game now,” Fantilli said Tuesday. “You can’t score another goal now. So obviously Connor’s season was phenomenal, and everything he’s done up until that point has been great. So I just want to sit back and enjoy it as much as I can.”

Fantilli certainly has the resume.

The native of Nobleton, Ontario, first went to the USHL and played with the Chicago Steel in 2021. He helped the Steel win the USHL Clark Cup as a rookie, and Fantilli was named the playoff MVP after he scored eight goals with nine points in eight games.

Fantilli was expected to move to the OHL before a visit to Michigan’s campus led him to change paths. He made quite the impression as a freshman.

The Canadian led all U.S. college players with 65 points. He also tied for the lead with 30 goals in 36 games, capping his season in rare territory by taking home the Hobey Baker award. He helped the Wolverines reach the NCAA Frozen Four, where they lost to Quinnipiac in a semifinal.

His production is why NHL Central Scouting ranked Fantilli as the No. 2 North American skater. Director Dan Marr noted Bedard has had scouts and coaches watching him the past three years as a potentially “generational-type player.” Marr also believes Fantilli will help define a franchise.

“We’re in a situation here you have Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl,” Marr said, referring to Edmonton’s star duo. “That’s Connor and Adam. So you’re going to win with both. You’re not going to go wrong with both.”

Fantilli turns 20 in October, while Bedard won’t be 18 until July 17. The experience of playing college hockey also means that Fantilli has experience playing against players as old as 23 while also living on his own, even if it was in a dormitory.

Fantilli also met people from all over the world he feels has helped him mature both as a person and a player.

He also has to manage the expectations that come from playing at Michigan, a program that is a NHL draft pick factory with four of the first five selections in 2021 alone. The Wolverines had 13 NHL draft picks on the 2021-22 roster.

Seattle Kraken center Matty Beniers became the first Michigan player to win the Calder Trophy as NHL rookie of the year Monday night, edging out former Wolverines teammate Owen Power, now with Buffalo and the No. 1 overall pick in 2021.

Fantilli has been able to talk to those players and get what he called “great advice” from them. His goal is to try and follow in their footsteps.

Part of Fantilli’s future involves deciding which path to take next after he is drafted. He knows the Anaheim Ducks have stockpiled a lot of young talent, and the center is seen as someone who could make a quick and easy transition to the NHL.

“I’ve tried to prepare myself my entire life for this moment, and hopefully if that’s the decision that’s made to try and step in, I’d be able to have an impact and be the type of a guy that I want to be,” Fantilli said.

Returning to Michigan also remains on the table.

“If the decision is to go back, I know I have other areas of my game that I can still work on and try in college,” Fantilli said.

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