Top NHL draft prospect Adam Fantilli thriving for Michigan

Top NHL draft prospect Adam Fantilli thriving for Michigan

ANN ARBOR — Every forward change Adam Fantilli makes this season for the Michigan hockey team is being thoroughly dissected by NHL scouts.

The 6-foot-2, 195-pound Nobleton, Ont., player entered his first year with the Wolverines as a hot prospect in the 2023 NHL Draft and showed why in his first 20 college games. He leads the NCAA in points per game with 14 goals and 19 assists while centering the team’s first line.

Fantilli also won a gold medal earlier this month with Canada at the World Junior Championship, where he mostly played on the wing in a stacked squad that also included 2023 slated first pick Connor Bedard, who set a WJC record with 23 points in seven games.

“There are a lot of lessons to be learned from going there with such a great team,” Fantilli said in a video conference call with media on Tuesday night about playing for Canada, who beat the United States 6- 2 in the semi-finals before beating the Czech Republic 3-2. in overtime in the gold medal game. “With such a great team like this, there’s a lot to learn about how to control your ego at the door and play your part in winning a gold medal and serving a collective purpose. So “, learning a lot about how to play up and down a formation, playing longer minutes with Michigan. I learned a lot about my game.”

The seventh-ranked Wolverines (14-9-1, 6-8 Big Ten) have leaned heavily on Fantilli this season after losing five first-round picks and six of their top seven team scorers. last year who won No. 1 overall. seeded in the NCAA Tournament.

The 18-year-old’s scoring pace is better than three of the last four NCAA scoring champions. Scouts have been raving about his size, speed and offensive creativity, which is why many pundits believe he’ll be second in the table behind Bedard in the June draft.

With the spotlight constantly on Fantilli, it would be easy to see how outside noise and the buzz of drafts could become a distraction.

He said he told his family and friends to avoid sending him updated leaderboards or simulations. He also said he has time limits set for all of his social media apps.

Interim head coach Brandon Naurato praised Fantilli’s ability to handle the hype surrounding him.

“I think he did an amazing job,” Naurato said after Monday’s practice at Yost Ice Arena. “He really has. It’s a lot. I can’t relate to that, but seeing guys go through it is a lot on their plate. He did a very good job, even coming back from the World Juniors, playing on the wing and then coming back to the center, I think it took a little adjustment. I think last weekend he came to his senses.

Like the rest of the team, Fantilli struggled in the team’s first game after the winter break — a 7-2 loss to Ohio State on Jan. 13. But the star center upped his game last weekend against No. 2 Minnesota, recording a goal and an assist while shooting seven on goal in Friday’s 4-3 overtime loss. On Saturday, he scored twice in a 5-4 overtime win.

At the start of the weekend, Naurato spoke to Fantilli about his positioning, hoping it would lead to more possession in the attacking zone.

The freshman doesn’t need a lot of time and space in the offensive zone to create chances, but the Wolverines spent much of their streak against the Buckeyes defending in their own zone.

Last weekend against Minnesota was a different story, with Michigan generating more rushing chances.

“I thought it was good,” Naurato said of Fantilli’s streak against the Gophers. “He scored goals and that’s great. We talked a lot about some places to be defensively, and that will lead to him hitting more pucks. Just him under the puck. I think that led to a lot of his offense.

With 10 games remaining in the regular season, Fantilli is firmly in the discussion for the Hobey Baker Award, given annually to the NCAA’s top player. The former Chicago Steel standout will continue to see plenty of ice for Michigan, which continues to battle the injury bug this season.

First-round pick Mackie Samoskevich, Fantilli’s teammate for most of this season, suffered what appeared to be a shoulder injury in Saturday’s game, while junior defenseman Jacob Truscott, a fifth-round pick in 2020, was also injured. Neither practiced Monday and Naurato didn’t seem optimistic about his availability for this weekend’s series against No. 6 Penn State.

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With the Wolverines in sixth place in the Big Ten but just nine points out of second with games on the way, Fantilli’s focus is on helping the team climb up the standings and prepare for another deep run in playoffs, not the Hobey Baker.

Only two Michigan players have won the Hobey Baker in program history: Brendan Morrison (1997) and Kevin Porter (2008).

“With guys coming back, like (Minnesota, Matthew Knies), guys like (Michigan, teammate Luke Hughes) coming back, I didn’t even think about it,” Fantilli said of the Hobey Baker. “I was trying to have the best rookie year I could have, the best freshman year I could have. So the fact that I’m in the conversation for this is an honor, and I’m really grateful. But I try to keep my eyes focused on our team and get as far as we can together.

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