If I’m the Blackhawks, Adam Fantilli is No. 2 on My 2023 NHL Draft Big Board
The exact date for the 2023 NHL Draft Lottery hasn’t yet been set, but it will take place at some point in April. Between now and the end of the season, a handful of teams will continue to do their best to be the worst team in the league while still showing a little competitive fire every once in a while. One of those teams vying for the right to select Connor Bedard first overall in Nashville is obviously the Chicago Blackhawks.
But… what happens if the Blackhawks don’t get the No. 1 overall pick in the 2023 NHL Draft? How’s the consolation prize?
Back in the first week of September, I began sharing some non-Bedard names to keep an eye on as this season progressed. The first player I profiled was Adam Fantilli, who was, at that time, headed to the University of Michigan to embark on a freshman campaign.
Since then, NHL Central Scouting released their preliminary watch lists with early grades on prospects. Bedard and Fantilli were among the players who received an A grade, which they give to a player they deemed as a first-round caliber prospects.
Among the other top-tier players with an A grade were Russian wing Matvei Michkov and Swedish center Leo Carlsson, who have emerged as the top-four “elite” level players at the top of the 2023 NHL Draft projections.
For some time, scouts have told us Michkov is the second-best talent in the upcoming draft class. There are some significant problems there, however. First, Michkov is under contract in the KHL for three years after he gets drafted this coming summer; he won’t even be eligible to sign with his NHL club until that contract expires. Secondly, we were denied the opportunity to watch Michkov play in the last two World Junior Championships because Russia was banned. So we’re depending on scouts in Russia to continue telling us how good he is.
I was impressed with what I saw from Carlsson at the recent World Juniors. He was a top-line threat for Sweden throughout the tournament and brings the same size as Fantilli. In fact, he out-performed Fantilli in the eyes of many.
But if I’m the Blackhawks’ front office and I’m sitting at No. 2 overall in Nashville, I can tell you right now whose name I’m calling from the podium. It’s Fantilli.
Fantilli has been putting up huge numbers at Michigan this season by any standard, but as a teenage freshman it’s remarkable. Because of his production and size, he’s naturally drawing comparisons to Jack Eichel. Eichel, the No. 2 pick after Connor McDavid in 2015, put up 71 points in 40 games at Boston University his freshman — and only — college season.
In mid-January, Scott Powers wrote a piece for The Athletic about what the Hawks’ options are if they don’t get the top pick in which he asked scout analyst Scott Wheeler for his impression of the top prospects.
“I think Fantilli will play in the NHL next year and have an impact,” Wheeler said. I tend to agree, though I could see a scenario where Fantilli follows the path of another Michigan player who was the No. 1 overall pick in his draft, Buffalo defenseman Owen Power. Power returned to Ann Arbor for a sophomore season before turning pro despite being the top overall selection.
After a strong weekend sweep of No. 6 Penn State in Ann Arbor, Fantilli leads the nation with 1.76 points/game for the Wolverines. He’s been dominant, scoring 16 times with 21 assists in 21 games for Michigan.
But what he did on Saturday night locked him up as my No. 2 prospect in the upcoming draft.
Michigan was down 3-0 to Penn State; they allowed two goals in the opening minute (60 seconds) of the game. It was an uphill climb the entire night, but Michigan pulled off the stunning comeback and won 5-4 behind a legendary four-goal performance by Devils defense prospect Luke Hughes (he’s going to be a superstar by the way).
During the game, Fantilli got tangled up with a Penn State player and it appeared his left leg got bent in a way that is not good. The slow-mo replay showed his knee and ankle both going in directions that isn’t ideal (think Patrick Mahomes last weekend). He needed help off the ice and I tweeted that I wondered if he’d be able to return.
He came back. And looked just fine.
I want you to pay attention to Fantilli (No. 19 in maize and blue) on this clip, where he set up Hughes for the eventual game-winning goal.
He’s been doing this all year, but in this case he was doing it on one leg that wasn’t 100 percent. Fantilli retrieves a loose puck in traffic, navigates into space and makes a perfect pass to an open teammate for the deposit.
Remember: a lot of the guys Fantilli is playing against in the Big Ten and around college hockey are in the early-20s. The 6-2, 195-pound center has been a dynamic force on the ice and he doesn’t turn 19 until October 12 — right around opening night for the 2023-24 NHL season.
We’re going to continue looking at some of the top prospects who will be around where the Blackhawks will have their four picks over the first two rounds of the 2023 NHL Draft between now and the end of the regular season. But I’m ready today — Jan. 29 — to put Fantilli in Sharpie on my big board at No. 2 overall.