The Blackhawks’ rebuild is no secret. Neither is the potential impact available at the top of the 2023 NHL Draft.
Every team is drooling over the possibility of landing the unanimously projected No. 1 pick, Connor Bedard (as they should), but that has obscured the fact that the rest of the class is loaded with other NHL-star-caliber prospects. Landing the top pick is never a lock for any team (there is a lottery, after all), so the availability of other exciting (albeit non-Bedard-level) prospects should be music to your ears.
One such player is Adam Fantilli. And for Blackhawks fans, he could be easier to keep tabs on than others.
Adam Fantilli is a big body center who plays with authority. He was dominant with the Chicago Steel in the USHL last season, posting 37 goals and 37 assists in just 54 games. Fantilli is listed at 6-3 and 192 pounds as he embarks on his freshman collegiate season at the University of Michigan, where he’ll be on the same roster as Blackhawks prospect Frank Nazar.
Here’s some of what Scott Wheeler at The Athletic had to say about Fantilli in his August prospect rankings for the 2023 NHL Draft, in which he had him third overall:
Fantilli is a big, strong, powerful kid who takes pucks from the wall to the interior with strength and ease. He can beat you along the wall on the cycle. He can beat you carrying the puck in rotations around the perimeter of the offensive zone.
He can beat you by pushing through lanes to the middle third, driving the net, or dropping a shoulder to take space that isn’t there. He can beat out flying out wide. He blew me away in Calgary at Canada’s summer showcase last year, and though I thought he was forcing it at U18s in Germany (I actually think he can be a little selfish/his decisions look immature at times) he looked like a man among boys there too. When he keeps his feet moving, he’s a lot to handle. It’s not often we see players his size who can move like him.
He might be the best skater I’ve seen in this draft so far, honestly. His skating is balanced. It’s powerful when it needs to be and light and adjustable when it needs to be. Within his movement patterns, he can handle the puck on a string. He’s going to be a transition monster. On top of it all, he’s physical, he’s strong in the faceoff circle, he can score from mid-range consistently with his low-kick wrister, he’s got an ability to protect the puck and shade in and out of coverage, he’s got a dangerous curl-and-drag wrister, and he’s comfortable in traffic. When he’s on, he can completely take over a game. If he can learn to make better choices (better shot selection, overhanding less, utilizing his linemates better), he’s got the tools to become the top-of-the-lineup centre. I can’t wait to see him at the college level with the Wolverines this season.
He’s projected as a top-three pick in next year’s draft, and comes with fewer complications than the third player projected to be in the top-three conversation, Matvei Michkov. He’s another player with superstar written all over him. However, Michkov is under contract with KHL team SKA St. Petersburg through 2026.
Fantilli told TSN he believes he can challenge Bedard for the top overall pick in the 2023 NHL Draft, which is the kind of swagger you love to see in top draft picks. He also provided some self-scouting for TSN, saying he models his game after Nathan MacKinnon with a blend of Patrice Bergeron. A superstar offensive force combined with the best defensive forward of his generation? Where do we sign up?
In their early, preseason 2023 NHL Draft top 40 prospect rankings, The Hockey News had Fantilli at No. 2 overall. Here’s what they had to say about him and how his game varies from the other two top prospects:
Bedard and Michkov are both smaller stars, but Fantilli has the size (6-foot-2, 190 pounds) and the awesome speed to be a force, even though he’ll be one of the younger players in college hockey this season. A big-time producer, Fantilli was MVP of the USHL playoffs in 2021.
McKeen’s also had Fantilli at No. 2 in their early 2023 NHL Draft rankings, and they were strong in their comments about his game. Here’s some of what they said:
The thing about Fantilli is that he is probably already NHL ready. An October born 2004 center, had he been born a month earlier, he would have been the most NHL ready player in the 2022 NHL Draft crop. Playing for the Chicago Steel of the USHL, Fantilli was a member of the league’s first all-star team and one of its best players. At 6’3, and close to 200 lbs already, he is that ideal power center that every NHL team is coveting and building around…
In a lot of ways, Fantilli serves as a bit of a foil to Bedard. It was extremely interesting to see them playing together at the U18’s, where Canada’s offense was electric…but their defense was an absolute mess. Fantilli blends power and grace. It may be cliched, but he plays like a 6’3 young man with a size advantage. He loves to use his speed and strength on the puck to drive the middle and he consistently applies pressure on opposing defenders. However, unlike Bedard, Fantilli is already a polished two-way player. He projects as a dominant two-way center in that Aleksander Barkov, Anze Kopitar type mold.
Fantilli showed well for Canada in last year’s U18 World Junior Championship, producing six points in five games. As you can see in the video above, he profiles as a dominant power forward. And, unlike the last time the Blackhawks used a top-three pick on a big center, Fantilli will get a season of highly competitive hockey in the Big Ten under his belt before he’s available in the draft.