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Basketball ties aside, B.C.'s Macklin Celebrini focused on hockey as NHL draft's presumptive No. 1 pick

Canada's Macklin Celebrini (17) scores on Germany goaltender Matthias Bittner (1) during first period hockey action at the IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship in Gothenburg, Sweden, Sunday, Dec. 31, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Christinne Muschi
Canada's Macklin Celebrini (17) scores on Germany goaltender Matthias Bittner (1) during first period hockey action at the IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship in Gothenburg, Sweden, Sunday, Dec. 31, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Christinne Muschi
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Having a father working for the Golden State Warriors and former NBA star Steve Nash for an uncle, college hockey player of the year and the presumptive No. 1 NHL draft pick Macklin Celebrini, likes to think he’s got game.

“I think it’s pretty good,” Celebrini said, referring to his basketball ability, before acknowledging his dad, Rick, might be a better judge. “Every time I play and he watches, he says, `I’m a hockey player, playing basketball.’”

Celebrini will even happily admit to his shortcomings, by shaking his head when asked how he’d fare against Steph Curry by saying, “No, I don’t think that would go over very well.”

Curry, Draymond Green and the rest of the NBA can breathe easy.

At just under 6-feet and nearly 200 pounds, Celebrini isn’t about to quit what is projected to be a successful and lucrative pro hockey day job in preparing for the next step in his ascension on Friday, when the first round of the NHL draft opens at The Sphere in Las Vegas.

The San Jose Sharks hold the No. 1 pick and have already indicated their intention to choose the center. Celebrini represents the next major building block for a team that’s gone five seasons without a playoff berth, with the added bonus of a homecoming of sorts.

Though from North Vancouver, British Columbia, Celebrini spent time in the Bay Area, where he played for the Junior Sharks after his father relocated the family in 2018 upon being hired as the Warriors vice president of player health and performance.

It’s the same role Rick Celebrini previously held in Vancouver with the NHL's Canucks and MLS's Whitecaps, which provided his son an indelible behind-the-scenes glimpse into pro sports. As much as Celebrini hoped his son would follow in his footsteps by playing soccer, he knew very early on how much hockey meant to Macklin.

“He showed an affinity when he was very, very young,” Celebrini said. “At four- or five-years-old, just the determination and love he had for it, and just the passion. You could see that he was — and I’ve said this a number of times — born to be a hockey player.”

Freshman shines at Boston University

Celebrini is coming off a celebrated freshman season at Boston University, where college hockey’s youngest player last season — he turned 18 earlier this month — finished second in the nation with 32 goals and third with 64 points in 38 games. He became the fourth freshman to win the Hobey Baker Award as college hockey's MVP, while also earning Hockey East player and rookie of the year honors.

“I think we had a pretty good feeling he was going to be pretty good,” Terriers coach and former NHL forward Jay Pandolfo said.

“To be able to actually handle that pressure and keep getting better, that’s not easy to do,” Pandolfo added. “You could see from Day 1, when he stepped on campus and stepped on the ice where he was going to do what he does as a player. And that’s very impressive. There was no intimidation at all to him.”

Celebrini failed to register a point in just six games. His production accelerated over the second half of the season by combining for 22 goals and 39 points in his final 17 games in helping the Terriers reach the Frozen Four, which they lost in the semifinal to eventual champion Denver.

“I’m not a fan of the term generational-type player and that, or putting labels on them,” NHL Central Scouting director Dan Marr said of Celebrini. “But you can just tell with these elite kids where they have that unique and rare ability to thrive while competing with consistency and with a passion to every challenge. Their skills and smarts just kick in, and he’s done it again.”

Decisions, decisions

The only lingering question is whether Celebrini will turn pro or return to BU for a second season.

“I believe he’s ready to play at the National Hockey League level. He’s physically mature and mentally mature,” said Pandfolfo, who is among those serving as a sounding board for the player.

“I could argue either way and, to be honest, I don’t think he’s going to make the wrong decision,” Pandolfo said, before laughing and adding he’s not going to turn Celebrini away if he chooses to stay.

Celebrini isn’t rushing into making a decision, saying he wants to enjoy the pre-draft process. Though excited by the prospect of going to San Jose, Celebrini said he would be grateful to join any team that selects him.

Sharks GM Mike Grier, a former Terrier, was already envisioning where Celebrini will fit in his lineup moments after the NHL revealed San Jose had won the draft lottery.

“What’s exciting is he knows the area. His family has a house 30 minutes from here,” Grier said. “It’s a big day for the organization. It’s been a tough year for the fans and the team. ... So this is a nice prize for what we’ve been through this year.”

AP Sports Writer Josh Dubow contributed to this report.

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