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Top of the lottery prospects: Introducing Adam Fantilli

The top NCAA prospect in years will be another name high up on draft boards this summer.

Canada v Sweden: Group A - 2023 IIHF World Junior Championship Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images

(Editor’s note: Since we all know what this season is about, we’re going to start keeping tabs on the four prospects expected to be atop draft boards for the 2023 NHL Draft. Next up, Adam Fantilli.)

There’s no debate that Connor Bedard is the undisputed top player in the upcoming NHL Draft, and the gap between Bedard and other players expanded after the World Juniors, but Adam Fantilli has been so impressive that he would arguably be the No. 1 pick in most other drafts. He’s considered a complete-package type of player with his size, hands, shot, speed, and hockey IQ.

Despite being Canadian, Fantilli decided to take a more traditionally American developmental path. He spent two seasons in the USHL with the Chicago Steel, putting up 110 points (55 G, 55 A) in 103 regular season games and 10 points (8 G, 1 A) in 11 playoff games. The growth between the two seasons was especially impressive as he went from 0.74 to 1.37 points-per-game. It was during that second season in Chicago that Fantilli started to be considered by many as the second-best player in the 2023 NHL Draft.

Currently, Fantilli is in his freshman season at the University of Michigan, traditionally one of the top men’s hockey programs in the NCAA. He started the season at a blazing pace with 18 points (8 G, 10 A) in his first eight games, with highlight-reel-worthy plays practically every game. He slowed down slightly as the season progressed, but his 11 goals and 18 assists in 18 games is still tied for best point-per-game rate in the NCAA.

With his ability to drive and maintain possession and his elite on-ice vision, Fantilli is always a threat to score when on the ice. He’s at his best when the offense for his team runs through him, whether that be using his strong skating to weave effortlessly through the neutral zone or for him to mastermind scoring chances for his teammates.

With his 6-foot-2 frame and high-energy compete level, Fantilli has the more physical tools to compliment the finesse side of his game, and he can easily play the power forward role when needed. This is especially apparent with his shooting habits: he’s able to score with an otherworldly shot from distance or drive in close for a gritty goal.

After the 2023 World Juniors, there was a lot of discussion about Fantilli’s less productive performance, but that was somewhat short-sighted, considering his role on the Canadian team. The biggest issue he faced was his shift from center to wing — a position he had never played before — and most of his initial mistakes seemed to stem from this as he kept drifting too much into the center’s coverage instead of his own. Fantilli was eventually dropped into an energy, checking-line role in the bottom-six, where he excelled.

Fantilli spoke to the media after the tournament with a mature outlook on his World Juniors experience:

“One of the biggest lessons I learned was how important it was for each guy to play their role and know how they fit into that team structure. We had a lot of guys that are first rounders. A lot of guys are captains and the best players on our teams in juniors. So just knowing how to check your ego at the door and play the right role is probably the biggest takeaway I had.”

Fantilli ended the World Juniors with just 6 points (1 G, 5 A), so he obviously didn’t have the traditional offensive breakout performance expected of him. But he contributed when needed, like scoring the game-winning goal against Team USA to send Team Canada to the gold medal game.

Now back at Michigan, Fantilli has three assists – all primary – in his last two games, so his offense seems to be back on track. He and the Wolverines will be facing Minnesota — leaders of the Big Ten and No. 2 in the NCAA the most recent college hockey poll — twice this weekend in back-to-back games on Friday and Saturday.