July 22nd, 2024

‘Amazing feeling’: Sharks select Macklin Celebrini with first pick at NHL draft

By Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press on June 28, 2024.

Macklin Celebrini arrives for hockey's NHL Awards, Thursday, June 27, 2024, in Las Vegas. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-L.E. Baskow

LAS VEGAS – Macklin Celebrini insisted he had to suit up in all of his brand-new hockey gear.

It was the youngster’s first skating lesson – not even a game.

His passion for the sport was there in plain sight for parents Rick and Robyn to see.

Celebrini pushed himself from that moment onward. All the work led him to Sin City’s searing heat and the NHL draft.

The San Jose Sharks did the expected inside the mesmerizing Sphere auditorium Friday, selecting the centre out of Boston University in the NCAA with the top pick.

“Pretty amazing feeling,” Celebrini said. “It’s been a dream of mine since I was a little kid.”

The Vancouver product is coming off a season where he collected 32 goals and 64 points in 38 games to become the youngest winner of the Hobey Baker Award as the top player in U.S. college hockey.

A busy 2023-24 campaign included representing Canada at the world junior hockey championship and helping his school qualify for the NCAA’s Frozen Four tournament.

“It’s been a long process ever since last summer and there’s been a lot going on,” said Celebrini, whose name was called by Sharks legend Joe Thornton. “I’ve really enjoyed spending time with my friends and family, going through this with them.

“Once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

Celebrini knows Northern California well after the family moved there when his dad took a job with the NBA’s Golden State Warriors in 2018.

He spent one season playing up a year with the San Jose Jr. Sharks youth program before continuing his budding career in Minnesota at Shattuck-St. Mary’s School, whose former student-athletes include Sidney Crosby.

“It was completely different from where I grew up,” Celebrini said of the San Francisco Bay Area. “Got the lay of the land and got to experience what life in California is like. There’s not that much transition. I enjoyed my time playing for the Junior Sharks.

“I’m excited to play for the actual Sharks.”

The Chicago Blackhawks were up next, taking defenceman Artyom Levshunov before the Anaheim Ducks drafted a stunned Beckett Sennecke at No 3.

“I didn’t think this was an option for me,” said Sennecke, a winger ranked as the 11th-best North American skater according to NHL Central Scouting. “To hear my name called by them, it was definitely shocking.”

The Columbus Blue Jackets took centre Cayden Lindstrom with the fourth pick and the Montreal Canadiens went with winger Ivan Demidov at No. 5.

“I’m so excited to be Habs,” said the Russian, a selection announced by Canadian music icon Celine Dion. “It’s unbelievable.”

The Utah Hockey Club’s first selection since moving from Arizona was centre Tij Iginla at No. 6. The son of Hall of Fame winger Jarome Iginla now has family draft bragging rights after dad went No. 11 in 1995.

“He had a pretty good career,” Iginla said with a smile. “I’ll have to start trying to build my resume. But yes, it’s nice.”

The Ottawa Senators took defenceman Carter Yakemchuk at No. 7, the Seattle Kraken selected centre Berkly Catton at No. 8, the Calgary Flames picked defenceman Zayne Parekh at No. 9, and blueliner Anton Silayev went No. 10 to the New Jersey Devils.

Montreal took centre Michael Hage at No. 21, the Flames picked winger Matvei Gridin at No. 28, the Toronto Maple Leafs grabbed defenceman Ben Danford at No. 31, and the Edmonton Oilers chose forward Sam O’Reilly at No. 23.

The Vancouver Canucks and Winnipeg Jets didn’t have first-round picks.

The draft, which continues Saturday, is being held inside the cavernous Sphere – a US$2.3-billion venue unlike any other in the world that features a massive screen made up of 64,000 LED tiles offering jaw-dropping visuals.

“Amazing,” said Celebrini, who now has what’s likely the most unique No. 1 selection picture in NHL history. “It’s truly one-of-a-kind, the technology and all that they have here.

“Just seeing how this place runs and the capabilities that it has, it was super cool.”

The Sharks are in a full rebuild after a long period of sustained success. The team promoted assistant coach Ryan Warsofsky, 36, to the top job earlier this month after firing David Quinn on the heels of San Jose’s 32nd-place finish.

The club has selected second at the draft on three occasions, with the most recent being Patrick Marleau all the way back in 1997, but Friday was the first time it had owned the No. 1 slot.

“It’s an exciting opportunity because you get to build a group,” Celebrini said of being a key part of San Jose’s future. “They have a young core that’s very special. 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.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 28, 2024.

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