Columbus Blue Jackets 2023-24 Season Preview: Adam Fantilli

The buzz has somewhat died down around Adam Fantilli, but there is one fact that we can’t stop talking about: he’s probably the best prospect the Blue Jackets have ever had. As we enter training camp before his rookie season, the only questions I have are: What should we expect? And, how good can he be this year?

C Adam Fantilli
6’2″, 195 pounds
2022-23 stats: 36GP, 30G, 35A, 65Pts, 67PIMs, + 31 (University of Michigan)
Acquired: Drafted 1st round (#3 overall), 2023 NHL Draft
Contract: $950k through 2025-26 (ELC)
Role: Future #1 center

The Jackets enter the upcoming season at a bit of a crossroads. After an injury-riddled 2022-23 season, they’re expected to take major steps forward, perhaps even pushing towards a playoff spot under new head coach Mike Babcock. A lot of that playoff hope hinges on someone taking over and becoming a true #1 center for this team. At some point, that someone is going to be Adam Fantilli.

While it’s important to temper expectations, it’s also important to note context. First, I have to point out that even though Fantilli is just coming off of his NHL Draft year; he’s already 18 years old, and will be turning 19 on opening night. He’s not just your typical 18 year old kid coming out of junior – this is a guy with a 6’2″, nearly 200 pound frame…who just won the Hobey Baker Award as the best player in college hockey.

He’s just the third freshman to achieve that feat in NCAA history. The last guy to do that? Jack Eichel, who promptly stepped in to the NHL that next season and put up 56 points as a rookie, on a terrible Buffalo team. Fantilli will join a Columbus team that is miles ahead of where that 2015 Sabres team was, from a talent perspective. In fact, without the injuries last season, this Jacket team was nowhere near bad enough to be picking in the top-5 of the draft. Landing Fantilli adds an exclamation point to an already strong core in Columbus. And like everyone else, I expect him to be a difference maker right away.

RIGA, LATVIA – MAY 14: Adam Fantilli of Canada in action during the 2023 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Finland – Latvia game between Slovenia and Canada at Arena Riga on May 14, 2023 in Riga, Latvia. (Photo by Andrea Branca/Eurasia Sport Images/Getty Images)

Three keys to success:
  1. Don’t try to do too much. This was one of the (few) knocks on Fantilli prior to the draft; his competitive nature drives him to want to try to do it all himself. It will be important for Adam to take things one step at a time, and use his teammates to their fullest potential.
  2. Accept and own the role. It’s not in Mike Babcock’s blood to throw a rookie to the wolves, so I fully expect Adam Fantilli to start out on the second or even third line this fall. All he needs to do is work hard on both sides of the puck and earn coach’s trust. He’ll be playing alongside Johnny Hockey in no time.
  3. Soak it up. Settling into the NHL and making the adjustment from amateur play is not easy; but Adam should try to take it in slowly and soak up everything he can. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.

Looking at the CBJ roster, it’s not hard to see Adam Fantilli taking over the #1 center job by season’s end. In fact, I think he could be there by Christmas, if he comes to work with the right mindset. Ultimately, I think he should be one of the favorites for the Calder Trophy as the top rookie in the league. If he settles into a role alongside Johnny Gaudreau, Patrik Laine, or even Kent Johnson; I think the sky is the limit for Adam this season. Buckle up, he’s that good.