(Nashville) Everyone dreams of finding themselves in the position of Simon Nemec, drafted second overall last year without expecting it too much. Nobody, on the other hand, wants to follow in the footsteps of Shane Wright, who has slipped to the fourth echelon after being considered the big favorite for a long time.
There is no mystery as to the first choice of this 2023 vintage. Only Connor Bedard, refusing to put the cart before the horse, avoids describing himself as a member of the Chicago Blackhawks. It is nevertheless completely certain that he will be selected by the Hawks, holders of the first right to speak on Wednesday evening in Nashville.
After him, the consensus of the past year is weakening. Is it certain that the Anaheim Ducks will set their sights on Adam Fantilli? The second row seems to have been destined for him for an eternity. However, at the recent hopes evaluation camp, an NHL recruiter met by La Presse had reservations. Another source wondered about his sense of hockey. Nothing that would earn him a dazzling slide, but enough to call into question his status as indisputable second. Leo Carlsson and Will Smith, center players like Fantilli, could outplay him. Or not.
La Presse took advantage of a press meeting with the main hopes of the 2023 draft to ask them how they manage expectations on them, in a context where the most enthusiastic speculators begin their simulations almost two years in advance.
Right off the bat, one truth: mock drafts are something young athletes see. And this, despite their desire to “block out outside noise”.
“I would be lying if I said I didn’t see anything,” said Zach Benson, small forward for the Winnipeg Ice in the Junior League West. Rankings aggregator Hockey Pipeline puts him sixth, but some projections see him top 10 or even 15.
“Everyone has their opinion,” Benson continued. One guy will say something, another will say the opposite. Take these rankings with a grain of salt. We can’t start worrying. »
We can’t… but it inevitably happens. Especially when, as almost all young players repeat, this day has been planned in their heads since their earliest childhood.
Connor Bedard has been expected where he has been since he was almost 12 years old. For this shy boy, the “gradual” arrival of attention has been beneficial, he said on Tuesday. For others, it moved faster. Until culminating these days, a few hours before the big night.
“I try not to think about it too much,” Will Smith said. Anyway, I can’t do anything more about it. I want to live in the present moment. We’ll see what will happen. »
“It’s crazy to think it’s tomorrow!” “, abounded Ryan Leonard, his teammate in the American national development team, and potentially a target of the Canadian in the repechage.
“I don’t want to have too high expectations,” he continued. If I slip, I slip. It does not change anything. What interests me is what we do with the chance that is offered to us after the draft. That comes back to us. »
Adam Fantilli was the one who showed the most detachment. The moments of great excitement have never deprived him of sleep, he assures. His draft rank should be no exception.
Every choice he’s made to date in relation to his hockey career has been driven by “what’s best for [his] development.” This Ontarian was indeed exiled very young in the United States, first in a preparatory college, then in the USHL and in the NCAA. “So I want to go to a team that wants me, that will give me the right fit. Like everyone else, I hope to get out as soon as possible. But if not, there’s not much I can do about it…”
If a candidate were to lose feathers compared to his projected rank, we will see Wednesday evening if the good intentions will result in the promised candor. Or if, like Shane Wright in 2022, the walk to the podium will be done with an icy gaze.
The public is curious, the teams are curious… and the players are too. Matvei Michkov is really the UFO of this repechage. Since Russian players did not participate in the recent NHL evaluation camp and Russia has been banned from international competition since the start of the invasion of Ukraine, no one knows much about Michkov. “I know as much as you do,” Adam Fantilli told reporters, a response widely echoed by his peers. In short, no one knows him… except by his highlights. “I’m on TikTok, so yeah, of course I saw them,” Will Smith said with a smile.
His arrival in Nashville, the Swede Leo Carlsson did not steal it. Countless flights to the country city were canceled earlier this week, delaying the plans of several team staff members, in particular. Carlsson was stranded at Newark Airport in New Jersey. So he and his family rented a van and traveled the rest of the way overland, a trip of some 13 hours. He did not meet with members of the media on Tuesday morning, but no one will hold it against him. “This guy is really unlucky, Adam Fantilli laughed. In Vegas [in the Stanley Cup Final], he had a problem with his luggage. I think he’s sleeping right now, poor him… But he’s a phenomenal guy, you’ll have a lot of fun meeting him! »