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Fantilli plots course toward top of 2023 NHL draft

Adam Fantilli - Chicago Steel Adam Fantilli - Chicago Steel - Chicago Steel

Michigan Wolverines freshman Adam Fantilli played alongside Regina Pats phenom Connor Bedard on Team Canada at the under-18 World Championship in April. 

"It’s always a treat," said Fantilli. "I mean, he’s what he is. Everybody knows what he is. He shows it every time he’s on the ice."

Bedard is the leading contender to be picked first overall in the 2023 National Hockey League draft. His blistering shot is what stands out the most. 

"I don't know if I've ever seen something like it," said Fantilli. "I've analyzed it a little bit. I've looked at the way he pulls it, the way he releases it and the way he moves his legs ... The way he can do it at game speed is something I haven't really seen at that level before."

And yet Fantilli believes it's possible to unseat Bedard, who just helped Canada win gold at the summer World Juniors, at the top of the draft class. 

"Absolutely," the Nobleton, Ont., native said. "I can be a contender ... and that's going to be my goal this year. Playing in a completely different spot and with a new team, I'm excited for what the future holds. I'll play my best and see where the cards fall on draft day."

Fantilli is near the top of most draft lists after posting 37 goals and 37 assists in 54 USHL games with the Chicago Steel last season. The 6-foot-2, 188-pound forward spoke to TSN about how he prepared for his first NCAA season. Fantilli also listed his NHL role models and described what it was like to drop the gloves and pull off a lacrosse-style goal last season. 

The following is an edited transcript of the conversation.

How have you prepared for this big season? 

"I was lucky enough to train with some high-end guys and get some in-game experience at in-game speed at their level. And then always getting bigger and faster in the gym and stuff like that." 

Who did you train with? 

"The Hughes [brothers] let me come out. They had a lot of guys who used to play for the [United Stated National Development Team] Program there. Kyle Connor would come out. Dylan Larkin came out. [Cole] Caufield and [Trevor] Zegras as well. It was a very, very good group." 

What's one thing that stood out training with those guys? 

"Every pass is perfect and hard. They snap it around pretty well." 

What will be the biggest challenge adjusting to the NCAA game? 

"It's a different league than all junior leagues. There’s guys up to 24 and 25 years old. They're all big, fast, strong. It's really physical. There's not a lot of space, so I'll be getting used to that."

You mentioned Bedard is a guy you watch video on. Who else do you watch? 

"I watch [Cole] Caufield a lot. I watch [Nathan] MacKinnon a lot. I watch [Auston] Matthews a lot. I watch [Patrice] Bergeron a whole lot. It's just to find tendencies and what makes them great in their own respective manners." 

Who is your NHL role model? I recall you were a MacKinnon guy when we spoke a couple years ago.

"I could never really say, 'I play like MacKinnon,' because MacKinnon is MacKinnon. But I like to try and model myself after him, with a blend of Bergeron to play a defensive game as well." 

You're facing a lot of pressure this season. What's the secret to dealing with pressure? 

"I have no real secret. I stay off social media as much as I can. I have time limits on all my social media apps. I don't answer DMs. I don't answer a lot of that stuff where there can be some negative comments, especially on Twitter. I stay off that. I only really keep in contact with close friends and family in terms of conversations [about] hockey and projections and that sort of stuff. I keep a pretty close circle." 

What's your favourite social media app that you use and what's the time limit? 

"I'm on Instagram most of the time and also on TikTok. I give myself 15 minutes a day for both of them."  

You have worked with a mental performance coach, Dr. Beth McCharles, the last few years, correct? 

"I've been working with her for five, six years now. She's been a really, really big part of my game. I talk to her as much as I can throughout the year and in the off-season. She's been amazing." 

How'd that relationship start? 

"My dad found her when I was playing minor hockey for the Junior Canadiens, and I went in and talked to her. I had many more issues mentally back then than I do now, I would say, in terms of superstitions ... She's helped me turn rituals into routines and be a little more fluid with what I do pre-game, post-game, and the week leading up." 

What were your superstitions in the Greater Toronto Hockey League? 

"I would always have to sit in the same spot. I would always have to go on a certain side in warmups. Just dumb things that weren't important and didn't affect the game and I had to get away from those." 

How often do you talk to her now? 

"Maybe once a week, twice a week."

What are the conversations like?   

"To be honest, she's a really close friend of mine. We just talk. We talk about her life, my life and what's new and then we'll go into some things I've been feeling throughout the week ... I'll talk to her about some things I might be feeling, and she'll give me advice and she'll be very good at grounding me. She's good at giving me a narrow focus in the week leading up to the game and giving me certain things I should focus on in that particular game." 

Before getting to Michigan, you pulled off the Michigan move. What was it like scoring a lacrosse goal in the USHL? 

"It was, honestly, a blur. I don't really remember a whole lot of it. I've seen the video, so I know what it looks like, but I don't really remember a lot of it. It was pretty special. The media buzz was quite aggressive after it. It was a lot of fun."

What's the toughest part of pulling off that move? 

"Getting the speed right and getting the grip on your stick, because a lot of guys will get it up and then it will slip right off. I've tried it a bunch of times and then it slips right off my stick, which is why I think what Kent Johnson did at the World Juniors was so special. He did it with two minutes left in a period, so his stick must’ve been so snowy. So, really impressive." 

How much of the World Juniors did you watch? 

"Pretty much every game."

Halifax 2023, how big of a goal is that for you?  

"It’s up there. I mean, it’s a dream of every kid in Canada to play for the World Junior team and hopefully I get a chance."

What did you take from the under-18 World Championship where Canada lost in the quarter-finals? 

"It was a very, very short-term tournament. We had guys come in on late flights. My big takeaway was how much chemistry it really takes to win those tournaments and how tight-knit of a group you need to have. And, how disciplined you really need to be because penalties were something that really bit us in the butt." 

You showed off your hands with that lacrosse goal last season. You also showed off your hands in a fight with Green Bay's Damien Carfagna. What led to that? 

"The week before he had hit me, and it was a hit I thought was a little bit unnecessary. I ended up hurting my shoulder on that hit. It was nothing too crazy. I ended up playing the next week, but the shoulder was still a little sore. I was in another vulnerable position, and he tried to take advantage of it right before that. So, I skated down and gave him a cross-check and we ended up going at it at centre ice." 

How do you feel you held up? 

"Pretty good ... I remember I grabbed his shoulder pads and his shoulder pads ripped, so I didn't have much grip. Like, the whole padding ripped so I didn't have much grip. So, that kind of made me nervous, but I got a few good punches in. Slipped at the end, which was kind of tough, but carried it for most of it." 

 What's the story behind your Brandon Tanev inspired headshot last season? 

"Our whole team was in the media room at the Fall Classic in Pittsburgh. It's an event the USHL holds where all the teams go and play two games. There's always a media day so our whole team was in there. Myself and linemate Jackson Blake were joking about it and then our whole team came in for our headshot and we were messing around. The guys were like, 'Do it! Do it!' The lady was like, 'This is going to be everywhere.' And a lot of us did it. We thought it was pretty funny." 

Do you hear about it a lot? 

"Not a ton, but it's definitely out there. I reposted it on my Instagram story and Tanev himself actually replied to it, so that kind of made my day there. That was pretty funny."  

What'd he say? 

"He sent the laughing face emojis and 'Good luck in the season,' which I appreciated."

What's it like on campus right now? 

"I've never seen anything like this. This place is insane. Class started yesterday, so I've been through two days already. We've been doing captain practices because we can't get on the ice with our coaches yet. Workouts have been good. We're doing testing right now. Everything's good. All settled in the dorms, and we'll see how the year goes." 

Anything stand out about the classes? 

"I haven't been in class in about 18 to 20 months. I graduated high school really early, so it's been a little weird getting back in a classroom. But we have a really good support system here and they're helping us through it."

Anything you're looking forward to on the academic side? 

"I'm looking forward to my English class. The professor seems like a great guy. And then I'm in a leadership and coaching class where we have a lot of speakers come in, so I'm excited for that. I think I can get a lot out of that."