No surprise: Sharks take Celebrini No. 1 overall

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LAS VEGAS — Macklin Celebrini was a lock to be San Jose’s No. 1 overall pick in the NHL entry draft Friday. But after months of Celebrini anticipating the moment, actually hearing his name called was a relief.

“Once it’s [actually] official, it’s a pretty amazing feeling,” Celebrini said. “It’s been a dream of mine ever since I was a little kid. I’m just so excited to join the organization.”

The 18-year-old center projected to be the draft’s No. 1 selection following a celebrated freshman season at Boston University. Celebrini became, at just 17 years old, the youngest winner of the Hobey Baker Award as the NCAA’s top skater. He produced 32 goals and 64 points in 38 games for the Terriers.

Celebrini — clocking in at 6 feet and just shy of 200 pounds — was second in college scoring, failing to notch at least one point in only six games.

Just four other freshman — Paul Kariya, Jack Eichel and Adam Fantilli — had ever won a Hobey Baker Award. That same season, Celebrini was the Hockey East Player of the Year, Rookie of the Year and scoring champion.

That résumé put him atop draft boards and firmly on San Jose’s radar when it won the NHL’s draft lottery in May.

“It’s been a long process ever since last summer,” Celebrini said of navigating life as the probable top pick. “And there’s been a lot going on. But I’ve enjoyed it. I’ve really enjoyed spending time with my friends and family going through this with them. It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

Celebrini is a quintessential two-way skater, with excellent speed and a lethal shot that’s made him a dominant threat at every level of his career. An ability to dial in defensively and battle for pucks has set Celebrini apart and made him a coveted addition who is ready to join NHL ranks immediately.

Prior to joining the college ranks, Celebrini spent the 2022-23 season with the USHL’s Chicago Steel, leading them to an Eastern Conference finals berth with 46 goals and 86 points in 50 games.

San Jose would have been hard-pressed to find a more complete skater to take with the franchise’s first No. 1 selection.

In an unexpected draft-day twist, the Sharks even had former center Joe Thornton making their Celebrini choice on stage at the Sphere. It was another memory for Celebrini to add to his already-overflowing scrapbook from the week.

“Oh, it was amazing,” Celebrini said of Thornton being there. “He’s a legend of the game and a Sharks legend. He’s just an amazing player and person. It was pretty special to have him up there.”

It was almost like Thornton — who played for San Jose from 2005 to 2020 and retired following the 2021-22 season — was passing the torch to Celebrini as he projects to be at the forefront of San Jose’s ongoing rebuild. The Sharks had a brutal season in 2023-24, finishing last overall with a 19-54-9 record that led to coach David Quinn being fired (and replaced by Ryan Warsofsky).

Leading scorer Tomas Hertl was traded to Las Vegas in March, as clear a signal as any of how deep into the rebuilding phase San Jose truly is.

Celebrini will be a gigantic part of that process — and give fans something to root for as it rolls along. He declined to say if there’s a timeline on deciding between a sophomore season at BU or joining the Sharks immediately this season. But suffice it to say, Celebrini is looking forward to being part of San Jose’s future.

“It’s an exciting opportunity because you get to build a group,” Celebrini said. “They have a young core that’s very special. And I feel like they’re moving in the right direction and they’re building the right way. I’m super excited to join the organization. I can’t wait to see where we go.”

The newest Shark already has ties to the Bay area — and San Jose’s organization — something that should make for a seamless transition. His father, Rick, moved their family to California in 2018 when he became the Golden State Warriors vice president of health and performance. That allowed Celebrini to play a season with the junior Sharks program, and his family still has a home nearby to where the Sharks are situated.

In a way, it all felt meant to be, as Celebrini prepares for the exciting next chapter of his career.

“Ever since I was a kid, watching [the Vancouver Canucks] on TV, [this] has just been my dream,” he said. “And thinking it is going to be reality [when I was] watching my favorite players play every night, dreaming and hoping that one day [it would be me].”

At No. 2 overall, the Chicago Blackhawks selected Artyom Levshunov, 18, a defenseman who played for Michigan State last season. Blackhawks star Connor Bedard, who was selected as the league’s top rookie, winning the Calder Memorial Trophy on Thursday, announced the selection for the franchise.

At No. 3, the Anaheim Ducks selected Beckett Sennecke, 18, a right wing who played in the Ontario Hockey League last season.

The Columbus Blue Jackets, at No. 4 — a spot that appeared to be coveted by other teams leading up to the draft — selected Cayden Lindstrom, a center from the Western Hockey League.

At No. 5, the Montreal Canadiens selected Ivan Demidov, a right wing who played last season for SKA St. Petersburg Jr. in Russia, a pick that was followed by the Utah Hockey Club making its first-ever choice, taking Tij Iginla, a WHL center, at No. 6.

The Ottawa Senators had their first chance at No. 7, drafting another WHL player, defenseman Carter Yakemchuk, and the Seattle Kraken followed up at No. 8, selecting Berkly Catton, a WHL center.

The Calgary Flames broke up the WHL run at No. 9, drafting Zayne Parekh, a defenseman from the OHL, and the New Jersey Devils rounded out the top 10, selecting Russian defenseman Anton Silayev.

The Sharks also selected at No. 11 in the first round, drafting defenseman Sam Dickinson, who played in the OHL last season, scoring 18 goals.

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