In the second part of our series of players most likely to be selected by the Blue Jackets in June’s NHL Draft, we’re heading to that state up north. If we don’t win the ultimate lottery, Adam Fantilli is about as good a consolation prize as any we’ve ever seen.
I’ve seen more than a few of my fellow Blue Jacket fans mention that they would actually prefer Fantilli to Bedard for this team; and while I don’t agree with that assessment, I can see where they’re coming from. Some wonder if Bedard can be a center in the NHL because he’s typically been used on the wing at the junior level. The Jackets clearly need center prospects, and Fantilli is a true center.
And, he checks each and every box when you’re looking at what the Jackets need the most. He’s 6’2″ and nearly 190 pounds; a terrific skater who is dangerous offensively in nearly every aspect of the game. He can stickhandle, he can pass, he has a good shot, and he works hard each and every shift.
The only question mark I can come up with in Fantilli’s game is his play on the defensive side of the puck – but you can make that argument for nearly any prospect coming out of the amateur ranks. You can teach him how to check and play in his own end, but what you can’t teach are the kinds of high-end skill plays, awareness and vision that Fantilli has. He projects as a – dare we say – elite first line center in the NHL.
Look no further than his freshman season with the Michigan Wolverines this year. Fantilli scored 30 goals and 65 points in 36 games, leading the nation in scoring despite being a first year player in the NCAA. He edged out last year’s third overall pick (Logan Cooley) by 5 points for that scoring title; while becoming just the third freshman in history to win the Hobey Baker – with the highest point-per-game average by a draft eligible player in NCAA history (1.81ppg). He joins some pretty elite company, too: the other two players to win the Hobey as freshmen? Paul Kariya and Jack Eichel.
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All of this means that Fantilli has firmly established himself as the clear cut #2 pick in this draft. In almost every other year, he’s easily the best prospect and would go first overall. The Jackets – if the lottery changes nothing – would pick second, giving them the opportunity to land Fantilli, who would immediately become the best prospect in franchise history. He’s that good.
He’s already mentioned that he’ll be heading back to Michigan this fall for another year of NCAA hockey, hoping to take care of some unfinished business. But, I have little doubt that if and when he’s ready to turn pro, he can step onto an NHL roster in a prominent role and be a productive player, right away.
Obviously, we all want that first overall pick because Connor Bedard is one of the most highly touted prospects in recent NHL Draft history. But getting a player like Fantilli is nothing to complain about, and if we’re fortunate enough to get him at the draft, I still think this team can be on the road to contention in 3-4 years’ time. For the Blue Jackets, a team that has never had an elite #1 center – Adam Fantilli could be that guy.