Adam Fantilli Emerging as Much More than a Consolation Prize

“Tank hard for Bedard” is a phrase that is making its way around social media this NHL season. In case you haven’t heard yet, Connor Bedard is the runaway favorite to be the top pick in the 2023 NHL Draft in June. In some ways, it harkens back to the 2015 NHL Draft when teams were enduring dishonor for another Connor – Connor McDavid to be specific. Since then, we have seen why so much hype surrounded McDavid in his draft year. In fact, the player picked directly after McDavid, Jack Eichel, was something of an afterthought in the weeks and months heading up to that draft despite boasting an impressive pedigree of his own. Since then, Eichel has gone on to become a bona fide top center in the NHL, though not at the same level as the generational McDavid.

The 2023 draft class looks somewhat similar. Bedard’s recent play at the 2023 World Junior Championship (WJC) has people throwing around the word “generational” to describe the offensive dynamo, and for good reason. But, just like 2015, the player that most have labeled as the second-best prospect in the draft class does not receive anywhere near the same level of fanfare as Bedard – so much so that you wouldn’t think that this player would likely be the top pick in any other draft since the turn of the decade.

That player is Adam Fantilli.

Fantilli’s Mindset Sets Him Apart

It’s easy to look at the guy in front of you as an obstacle, especially when you’re talking about potentially being the first name off the board in the NHL draft. And yet, despite all the chatter that surrounds Bedard, Fantilli’s Team Canada teammate during the WJC, the two teenagers seem to have nothing but respect and admiration for each other.

“We were joking about it,” Fantilli said. “We don’t wish bad on each other. He’s a great player. There’s absolutely nothing to be upset about. Just watch him do his thing, learn what I can from him.”

“Love watching him play. We’re good friends,” Bedard added. “Hoping all the best for him.”

Adam Fantilli Michigan Wolverines
Adam Fantilli, Michigan Wolverines (Michigan Photography)

When Fantilli officially committed to play college hockey with the University of Michigan, it further underscored the type of prospect he is. You see, Michigan’s hockey program has been on a bit of a hot streak over the last decade or so, successfully recruiting and developing top-tier NHL players and prospects such as Quinn and Luke Hughes, Owen Power, Matty Beniers, Dylan Larkin, Zach Werenski and Kyle Connor, among many others. It’s an elite program that recruits elite prospects. To that point, on this season’s team which includes former first-round picks such as Rutger McGroarty and Luke Hughes, Fantilli has routinely lined up as the top center, and currently leads the team with 26 points in 16 games.

Not bad for a Freshman.

Related: NHL Draft Rankings: Horn’s Top 32 for December

According to his Team Canada coach Dennis Williams, Fantilli is a “student of the game” whose developing defensive game may be the key to unlocking his true potential as a top-tier prospect. Even though Fantilli grew up just north of Toronto, his father, Guiliano, “brainwashed” him into becoming a fan of the Boston Bruins.

“Him and my dad had been kind of diehard Bruins fans, so if he ended up in Boston or something like that, it would be crazy for my family,” Fantilli’s brother Luca said. Perhaps then it should be no surprise that Adam tries to model his game after the captain of the Bruins, Patrice Bergeron – a player known for his dominant two-way play.

Sometimes young players tend to lean into their strengths a little too hard in their developing years. Fantilli’s offensive IQ and ability to dominate in the offensive zone is enough to make any amateur scout’s mouth water; his offensive capabilities are maybe THE reason why some believe that he could produce in the NHL right now at the age of 18. However, it’s not just his willingness, but his eagerness to develop all areas of his game that sets him apart from the crowd in what promises to be a deeply talented 2023 NHL Draft class.

Fantilli Offers Blend of Size & Skill

On the ice, Bedard and Fantilli won’t be mistaken for each other. Fantilli has around four inches and 10 pounds on Bedard, and they both play games that are reflective on their individual size. Bedard slides into soft areas of the ice and attacks using his sky-high talent level and his lethal shot; Fantilli isn’t afraid to lean into a hit and muscle his way into the dangerous areas of the ice, and his knack for playmaking helps bring out the best in his linemates.

“The minute Fantilli gets on the ice, he’s thinking ‘attack.’ He’s really terrific in that regard,” TSN analyst Craig Button said. “He’s got the speed and the size, but he’s always driving [to the net]. He’s relentless. Adam has the size, the will and the skill. He’s a dog on the bone — in and around the net with the puck.” (From “Connor Bedard vs. Adam Fantilli at top of 2023 NHL draft board”, ESPN, Dec. 21, 2022)

Adam Fantilli Michigan Wolverines
Adam Fantilli, Michigan Wolverines (Michigan Photography)

That element of power and relentlessness is makes it easy to project Fantilli as a difference-maker as a top six forward in the NHL. His combination of hard and soft skills paint the picture of a player that should become a top-tier top line center in the NHL at his peak. Even if he doesn’t hit his highest potential, he still has one of the highest floors in the 2023 draft class; it’s not unreasonable to suggest that, at the very least, he’ll develop into one of the best second line centers in the NHL, and that’s the worst-case scenario.

Fantilli Is No Consolation Prize

The conversation about who will go second overall in the 2023 draft is not limited to Fantilli. Russian winger Matvei Michkov was recognized as the second-best prospect in the draft class as recently as Fall 2022. Swedish forward Leo Carlsson has also announced himself as one of the best prospects in this year’s draft class and may be the most well-rounded prospect available in 2023.

A slow start to the 2023 WJC created some doubt about Fantilli’s place among the 2023 draft class’s elite. While Bedard was on his way to putting together a once in a decade tournament performance, Fantilli seemed to be gripping his stick a little too tight, resulting in a high-effort, low-result start to his tournament. But once the games started to mean more than seeding, Fantilli showed that his game is about much more than just dominating in the offensive zone.

Through almost eight seasons in the NHL split between the Buffalo Sabres and the Vegas Golden Knights, Eichel has established himself as a premiere center in the NHL, posting 412 points through 438 games. While he lingered in McDavid’s shadow heading into the 2015 draft, he has since become the type of player teams hope for when they have a top-three pick in a draft.

Eight years later, Fantilli hopes to start his journey down a similar path. With only a few months left in the collegiate season, it’s up to him to show people that he’s the type of prospect that only a player like Bedard can knock out of the first overall discussion. But make no mistake: regardless of where he ultimately goes in the 2023 draft, he is going to provide a lot of hope for that team’s future.

That’s just the type of player Fantilli is.