'Intriguing' Adam Fantilli hoping to crack Canada's world junior roster

Forward Adam Fantilli is in a group of players expected to battle it out for the No. 2 selection at the 2023 NHL draft when teams make their picks in June. First, he's hoping to crack Canada's world junior roster.

Michigan Wolverines forward expected to battle for No. 2 spot in 2023 NHL draft

Adam Fantilli carries the puck during the Canadian world junior selection camp on Friday in Moncton, N.B. (Ron Ward/The Canadian Press)

Adam Fantilli was trying to get the game up and running on his laptop.

The freshman forward's Michigan Wolverines were set to play the Michigan State Spartans in a clash of NCAA rivals.

Fantilli's only problem? The matchup wasn't available to stream online.

Undeterred and still keen to watch some hockey following a long practice session at Canada's world junior selection camp, Connor Bedard offered a solution — the phenom's Regina Pats were playing the Prince Albert Raiders in Western Hockey League action and suggested that as an alternative.

Fantilli was sold.

"[Bedard] was telling me some funny stories about the barn they were playing in," he recounted the following morning. "Just talking to me about how their team plays and things like that."

Apart from looking to help Canada claim a 20th gold medal at the world junior hockey championship, which begins Dec. 26 in Halifax and Moncton, N.B., the duo is poised to be linked for the rest of their careers for another reason.

Bedard — a centre with sublime skill and a shot already being compared to that of Toronto Maple Leafs sniper and reigning Maurice (Rocket) Richard Trophy winner Auston Matthews — is considered a virtual lock to be the No. 1 selection at the 2023 NHL draft.

Fantilli, meanwhile, is in a group of players expected to battle it out for the second slot when teams make their picks in June.

Despite the obvious comparisons with Bedard, the 18-year-old from Nobleton, Ont., said they have zero issues or any type of rivalry.

"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."

Bedard, who's on the smaller side at five-foot-10 and 185 pounds, described Fantilli as "a whole package" with his speed, skill and six-foot-two, 195-pound frame.

"He can control the game and drive the game," said the 17-year-old from North Vancouver, B.C. "Love watching him play."

"We're good friends," Bedard added. "Hoping all the best for him."

Fantilli, who suited up for Canada at the 2022 under-18 world championships, has 11 goals and 26 points in just 16 games this season at Michigan.

"I don't know about surprise," he said of his start. "Definitely happy about it. Things have been going well."

Hockey Canada director of player personnel Alan Millar described what Fantilli brings as "intriguing" with the team set to make 10 cuts down to 20 skaters and two goalies on Monday.

"A guy that has been around our programs," he said. "Now we'll see how it translates at this level, and if he can earn his way onto our club."

'Student of the game'

Canadian head coach Dennis Williams said there's no doubting the forward's natural offensive ability.

"Student of the game," Williams said. "My discussions with him is, 'Can he play without the puck and defend hard and do the things that we want this team to do?"'

Fantilli, who scored twice in Sunday's 5-2 exhibition victory over a squad of university players, has tried to mould his skillset after NHL stars Nathan MacKinnon, Patrice Bergeron and Jamie Benn.

He also makes a point of watching Matthews, who last season became the first NHLer in a decade to score 60 goals, whenever possible.

"Something that doesn't happen very often," he said of the No. 1 pick at the 2016 draft's offensive output in 2021-22. "To do it with such a variety of scoring was so special."

Fantilli shoots the puck during selection camp on Friday in Moncton, N.B. (Ron Ward/The Canadian Press)

But despite growing up just north of Toronto, don't assume Fantilli is a Leafs fan.

"My dad kind of brainwashed me into the [Boston] Bruins," he said with a smile.

Fantilli wasn't aware Bedard is on a 27-game point streak (27 goals, 37 assists) in the WHL, but said seeing his contemporary consistently trend on social media after the latest audacious deke or goal provides motivation.

"It's every kid's dream to go as high as they can," Fantilli said of the draft in Nashville. "Doing the best I can, I know he's doing the best he can."

A player's draft year can be a stressful time, but Fantilli is doing his best to navigate potential pitfalls.

Fantilli is also planning to use the experience of Shane Wright — the centre dropped from the top of the draft board to No. 4 in July and has been loaned to Canada for the world juniors by the Seattle Kraken — over his roller-coaster 12 months.

"He dealt with some adversity," Fantilli said. "He's learning how to be a pro. He's being immersed in that kind of culture."

The big forward with big skating strides watches lots of NHL games and knows where teams sit in the standings, but insists he's yet to envision himself in a specific jersey.

"It's the NHL," Fantilli said. "You just want to pull on one of them."

And there are currently red and white threads to worry about as he aims to make the world junior roster.

"You're playing for every Canadian across the country ... it's our biggest thing."

Fantilli is doing everything he can to be there.

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