Unprecedented NHL Draft | Celebrini, the Exceptional Talent

(Buffalo) Top prospects being drafted after a year in the NCAA is not unheard of. But the way Macklin Celebrini has done it is much rarer.

Unless a cataclysm occurs, Celebrini will become the top pick in the 2024 draft on June 28th. While he may not be expected to be as exceptional a talent as his predecessor, Connor Bedard, his journey is no less extraordinary.

His uniqueness? He played in the NCAA at 17 years old. Let’s explain.

The 1st overall picks in 2021, Owen Power, as well as Jack Eichel (2nd overall, 2015), Matty Beniers (2nd overall, 2021), and Adam Fantilli (3rd overall last year) all played in college the season before their draft.

But these players all share the fact that they were born after September 15th, the date that determines draft eligibility. They are commonly known as “late” bloomers, players who are drafted at 18 years old, just a few months shy of turning 19. This means they were 18 years old in their first college season.

Celebrini, on the other hand, was born on June 13th. This means he played his entire college season at 17 years old, which is rare. QuantHockey only lists 24 17-year-old players in the history of the NCAA, a list that includes notable names like Jonathan Toews, Zach Werenski, and former Habs prospect Ryan Poehling.

Celebrini is by far the most productive player on this list. He finished the season as the third-highest scorer in the NCAA with 64 points (32 goals, 32 assists) in 38 games, with Boston University. It’s worth noting that the average age of Division I NCAA teams this season ranged from 20 years and 9 months to 23 years and 2 months.

His decision to try his luck at university at 17 was “primarily based on hockey,” he explained in a press conference with the top five prospects on Friday. “I felt that the level of play would help me improve.”

However, academically, Celebrini had to, in the words of André Ruel from CAA agency, who represents him, “complete two years in one” in order to be admitted. “While I was playing for the Chicago Steel [in 2022-2023], I had to take a lot of 11th and 12th-grade courses to get all my credits. But other than that, it wasn’t too much work,” explained the teenager.

On the hockey side, Michael Hage, a prospect from the 2024 draft who played with him in Chicago, best explained the situation. “With what he did in his first year, he had nothing to gain by returning to the USHL with the Steel,” Hage told us.

At 16, Celebrini had finished at the top of the American junior circuit for goals (46) and points (86), in 50 games.

A Future Shark

With such accomplishments, the Vancouver native has established himself as the consensual choice for the 1st overall pick in the 2024 draft.

However, he skillfully avoided the trap of presenting himself as a future member of the Sharks, despite heavily biased questions in that direction. “In the end, you never know what’s going to happen,” he emphasized.

He did admit to having had a meal with Mike Grier, general manager of the Sharks, but nothing more.

The most loaded question was from a colleague asking him if he was relieved to have Will Smith as a teammate. Smith, a Sharks prospect, wore the colors of Boston College last season, a major rival of Boston University. This same Smith confirmed in late May that he was leaving school and signing a contract with the Sharks.

“It’s not fun to face him,” Celebrini admitted. “He’s a special player, super talented. Every time we faced him, he caused us trouble.” In short, no mention of the prospect of being his teammate.

But barring an injury, it’s likely that Smith and Celebrini will experience their NHL debut in the old Pat Falloon uniform somewhere in October next year.

*Source: College Hockey News

In Brief

Charisma Without Words

A Canadiens executive had warned us. “This guy is quite a character. It’s like he’s never had a bad day in his life.” They were talking about Artyom Levshunov, a defenseman at Michigan State expected to be one of the top three players drafted. Journalists attending Friday’s press conference quickly got a sense of this charisma. Levshunov took the stage with another prospect, Zeev Buium; when the moderator introduced Levshunov to the media, he immediately waved his arms to give us big greetings, as if to make sure no one confused him with his colleague. That being said, the Belarusian gave relatively short answers, possibly due to a language barrier. Even though he has been playing in North America for two seasons, his English remains hesitant. He did reveal, however, that he had dinner with the Chicago Blackhawks, holders of the 2nd overall pick.

Owen Beck’s Advice

After a sensational season in Saginaw, Zayne Parekh is another name making waves this week. His 33 goals and 96 points in 63 games are all the more impressive considering the Ontarian plays as a defenseman. A top 10 selection is certainly a possibility for him. Parekh arrived in Buffalo as a Memorial Cup champion, as he plays for the Saginaw Spirit. It was there that he met Owen Beck, a Canadiens prospect traded to Saginaw in January. Parekh indicated that he had contacted some teammates to prepare for this evaluation camp, including Beck. “They all told me the same thing: teams will be on your case, they will ask tough questions, and they just want to see how you respond. Be confident and express yourself,” he summarized.

Hard-to-Reach Prospects

This year’s evaluation camp has the particularity that the top prospects are more difficult to contact than in previous years. In 2022, La Presse was able to meet Shane Wright, Logan Cooley, and Juraj Slafkovsky, three of the top four prospects on paper in that draft class, quite easily. This year, Celebrini’s representatives announced that he would not grant individual interviews. The same goes for Tij Iginla, Jarome’s son, a forward who divides analysts but is expected to land somewhere in the first half of the first round. Add to that the radio silence surrounding forward Beckett Sennecke. And the top two European prospects according to the Central Scouting Bureau, Anton Silayev and Ivan Demidov, are Russian and playing in their home country, which always comes with a certain degree of opacity when it comes to organizing interviews. That being said, other prospects, especially those from Quebec, have responded as usual, and interviews with them have been arranged without a hitch.