Why it would be phenomenal if the Detroit Red Wings could get their hands on Adam Fantilli

Detroit Free Press

BUFFALO, N.Y. — Adam Fantilli leans into phenomenal: It’s the word he uses to describe playing for Michigan hockey, representing Canada, and with several of his teammates.

It would also be phenomenal if the Detroit Red Wings could find a way to get their hands on him, though that may teeter on the fantastical. But during this week’s NHL combine, they were among the 11 teams who interviewed the gregarious teenager. Wings general manager Steve Yzerman already knows Fantilli from their shared history with Team Canada — Fantilli as one of the young stars, Yzerman in his management role.

“I have gotten to know him here and I did get to know him because he came in and spoke to our world junior group,” Fantilli said. “I’ve seen him at some Red Wings games and I’ve gotten to build a pretty good relationship with him.

“He’s a legend in the game and I want to be able to soak up as much as I can from conversations with him. Getting to know him has been phenomenal.”

Fantilli and fellow center Leo Carlsson are projected to be picked right after consensus No. 1 Connor Bedard at the June 28-29 draft in Nashville, Tennessee. The Wings hold their first pick at No. 9, and certainly Fantilli will be off the board by then. The rebuilding Chicago Blackhawks and Anaheim Ducks are best served by retaining their respective picks at first and second overall.

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The club with the third overall pick, the Columbus Blue Jackets, has a roster that tilts closer to making the playoffs, though this past season was a massive disappointment. If Bedard and Carlsson go one-two, maybe the Blue Jackets could be swayed if Yzerman swapped both his first-round picks. It could be worth exploring, at least, because Fantilli holds so much appeal.

Consider:

• As a freshman, Fantilli (30 goals, 35 assists in 36 games) led all NCAA players in goals (tied), points and points per game (1.81) and became the third freshman in NCAA history to win the Hobey Baker Award, joining Jack Eichel (2015) and Paul Kariya (1993).

• In 2020-21, Fantilli won the USHL’s Clark Cup championship with the Chicago Steel and was named the Clark Cup Most Valuable Player as a rookie after tallying eight goals and nine points in eight games.

• He won two gold medals for Team Canada on the international stage, including at the 2023 World Junior Championship (two goals, three assists in seven games) and as an 18-year-old at the 2023 World Championship (one goal, two assists in 10 games).

“Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl — that’s Connor and Adam,” NHL Central Scouting director Dan Marr said. “You’re going to win with both, you’re not going to go wrong with both. They are both going to be phenomenal assets to their clubs.

“Adam had a season for the ages. Whoever gets these two players, they are going to help define a franchise.”

Fantilli (6 feet 2, 195 pounds) said his season “far exceeded” his own expectations.

“I was really fortunate to play with a lot of phenomenal hockey players on a lot of amazing teams. Playing on Michigan for starters, amazing guys there. It’s the tightest group I’ve ever played for. It’s a tribute to our seniors and our leadership group there, they did a phenomenal job. I think we went further than a lot of people expected us to coming in with 12 freshman. The experience and world juniors and the world championship, they were both phenomenal.”

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Fantilli thrives at center, and described himself as someone versatile enough to “be able to play up and down the lineup. I don’t have to be in that top role necessarily to have an impact on the game. My physicality and my compete is something that I pride myself on and something I’m able to use up and down the lineup and be a depth guy if that’s needed.”

Fantilli is part of a Wolverine program that was also home to Wings captain Dylan Larkin and which, in recent seasons, has produced top-10 draft picks in Quinn Hughes (2018) and Luke Hughes, Owen Power, Matty Beniers and Kent Johnson (all in 2021). Fantilli skates in the offseason with a group that includes Larkin.

Fantilli relished his year in Ann Arbor.

“I think it’s just almost having two different sides of things, where when you leave the rink, you get to live like a normal college kid, and when you are done with your classes you get to go to the rink and have fun doing what you love,” Fantilli said. “So I think it was just having two different sides of your life that you could enjoy.”

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Two of his classes were particularly enjoyable: “I had an English class that was amazing because of my professor, he was a really good guy,” Fantilli said. “.And my other class was public speaking. It was really cool. Jennifer Luther, was my professor there, she was great, and I really enjoyed that.”

While it probably is little more than a phenomenal fantasy to picture Fantilli going from maize and blue to red and white, at the very least, the Wings didn’t pass on interviewing him at the combine.

“Sometimes trades can happen down the line, picks could switch, you never know,” Fantilli said. “I think they might be doing due diligence for further down the line in my career. Just getting in those rooms, feeling it out, getting to know them and them getting to know me, it was a really good experience and I was really glad I was able to have it.”

Contact Helene St. James at hstjames@freepress.com. Follow her on Twitter @helenestjames.

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Her latest book, “On the Clock: Behind the Scenes with the Detroit Red Wings at the NHL Draft,” is available from  Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Triumph Books. Personalized copies available via her e-mail.

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