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NHL's top draft prospect Celebrini in no rush to turn pro, with Sharks likely landing spot


BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) — Macklin Celebrini has a pretty good idea his NHL future rests with the San Jose Sharks, who hold the first pick in the draft.

For now, the 17-year-old center — he turns 18 on Thursday — coming off a celebrated freshman season at Boston University isn’t in a rush to get there, yet.

“There’s never really shame or there’s nothing wrong with just taking your time and just improving a little bit more,” Celebrini said at the NHL pre-draft scouting combine on Friday, in reiterating he’s not yet determined whether he’ll return to BU for a second season. “So I feel like in those ways, another year would benefit me just to get more physically ready, and just make sure I’m very fit and strong when I try to make that jump.”

Other than who gets chosen second overall, with the consensus split between Michigan State defenseman Artyom Levshunov and Medicine Hat center Cayden Lindstrom, Celebrini’s plans for next season represent the biggest question mark entering the two-day draft, which opens on June 28 at The Sphere in Las Vegas.

Not only is Celebrini the projected No. 1 pick by NHL Central Scouting, San Jose general manager Mike Grier expressed his intention to select the Terriers player immediately after the Sharks won the NHL draft lottery last month.

“It’s a big hockey moment for the organization and the fans here to have the opportunity to draft someone like Macklin,” Grier said at the time. And the second-year GM hasn’t cooled on his beliefs in praising the player when asked about Celebrini earlier in the week at the combine.

As college hockey’s youngest player last season, the 6-foot, 190-pound Celebrini won the Hobey Baker as the nation’s top player, as well as Hockey East player and rookie of the year honors. He finished second in the nation with 32 goals and third with 64 points in 38 games.

Another bonus for Grier's rebuilding plans for a team that finished last in the overall standings is Celebrini’s ties to the Bay Area. Though from North Vancouver, British Columbia, Celebrini’s father, Rick, is vice president of player health and performance for the NBA’s Golden State Warriors, and the youngster spent a year playing for the Sharks’ junior team.

Celebrini enjoyed his interview with the Sharks, as well as dinner with Grier, who also played at Boston University.

Despite the ties and the talk, Celebrini isn’t taking anything for granted.

“At the end of the day, you never know what’s going to happen, and I don’t think I’m getting too ahead of myself,” he said. “So, for right now, I’m just going to enjoy the last couple days of the combine and enjoy this experience.”

The Chicago Blackhawks are scheduled to pick second, followed by Anaheim, Columbus and Montreal.

In a switch from last year’s top-heavy forward draft class headed by Connor Bedard going No. 1 to Chicago, this year’s crop of prospects features four defensemen among the top seven-ranked North American skaters on Central Scouting’s list. The group is headed by Levshunov, who is from Belarus, and includes Zeev Buium, who is from San Diego.

Buium had the distinction of helping the U.S. win gold at the world junior championships this year, and then helping Denver win an NCAA title in April.

“I was obviously very fortunate to be on two really good teams and meet a lot of great guys,” said the 6-foot, 183-pound Buium. “It was two awesome experiences.”

At 6-foot-2 and 203 pounds, Levshunov was the Big Ten rookie and defensive player of the year, and finished eighth in the nation among blue liners with 35 points (nine goals, 26 assists) in 38 games.

Central Scouting’s top-ranked international player is also a defenseman in Russian Anton Silayev. Listed at 6-foot-7 and 211 pounds, the 18-year-old had three goals and 11 points in 63 games during his rookie season with the Novgorod Torpedo of the Kontinental Hockey League.

Celebrini spent last season playing with his older brother, Aiden, who is also a defenseman and was selected by Vancouver in the sixth round of the draft last year. At BU, he's coached by former NHL forward Jay Pandolfo.

Celebrini drew a laugh when discussing playing against Boston College’s Will Smith last season — “Every time we went up against him, he lit us up,” he said. The two will likely be teammates after the Sharks selected Smith with the No. 4 pick in the draft last year.

As for the best advice he's ever received, Celebrini didn't hesitate.

“Probably, stay present. I’ve been told that time flies by,” Celebrini said. “Before you know it, like, it’s five years later.”