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Three NHL scouts explain how likely No. 1 pick Celebrini improves Sharks

Three NHL scouts explain how likely No. 1 pick Celebrini improves Sharks

Editor’s Note: Sheng Peng will be a regular contributor to NBC Sports California’s Sharks coverage. You can read more of his coverage on San Jose Hockey Now, listen to him on the San Jose Hockey Now Podcast, and follow him on Twitter at @Sheng_Peng.

“The Sharks have never had a player and leader of this caliber, ever.”

Per one NHL scout who spoke to San Jose Hockey Now, that’s what winning Tuesday’s 2024 NHL Draft Lottery – and making Macklin Celebrini the No. 1 overall pick in June – could mean to the Sharks.

So, could Celebrini have more of an impact on the franchise than, say, even Joe Thornton?

That scout doesn’t project Celebrini to put up points as Thornton did — Jumbo’s 1,539 points are the 14th most in NHL history — but Thornton, the No. 1 pick by the Boston Bruins in the 1997 draft, had to grow into a better two-way center and as a leader over his Hall of Fame-worthy career.

There appears to be a lesser learning curve for the Boston University pivot, according to three NHL scouts from outside the Sharks organization who spoke to San Jose Hockey Now.

“Off the ice, his leadership and work ethic will set a championship-caliber tone,” NHL scout No. 1 said. “He’s a No. 1 center that will drive scoring and winning.”

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“He’ll be more of a lead-by-example guy, from what I understand,” NHL scout No. 2 said. “Plays and leads with his effort on the ice, and that carries weight on the bench and in the locker room.”

NHL scout No. 3 echoed that: “[The Sharks will] be getting a true No. 1 two-way NHL center. He’s a really good person, and his teammates gravitate to him.”

“Celebrini is the complete package on the ice,” NHL scout No. 2 said. “This draft class is a little on the weak side, but I think even in other years, he’s going to stack up well with other first overall picks, if not better. High skill and IQ, skating, full attention to detail. 200-foot player. Plays hard.

“Hard to find any true faults in his game, other than that he is on the smaller side, although he’s pretty robust, listed at 189 pounds.”

Former Sharks coach David Quinn summed up the 6-foot centerman’s potential value after the team locked up the best odds in the draft lottery last month.

“[He’s] what [the Sharks] want to be as an organization, what the sport demands. He’s got high, high skill, but he’s got a hardness to him that allows him to be a different type of player,” Quinn said. “When I watch him, I think Jonathan Toews a lot. Maybe a little bit more skill.”

Toews, a No. 1 center in his own right, racked up a lot fewer points than Thornton at 883, but he scored more than 25 goals in a season eight times, captained the Chicago Blackhawks to three Stanley Cup titles, and won the 2010 Conn Smythe Trophy and the 2013 Selke Trophy.

“[Celebrini] immediately puts them on a path to a Stanley Cup,” NHL scout No. 1 said. “Right now, they have zero Cup-caliber [franchise] players, in my opinion. Mack gives them one to build off of.”

NHL scout No. 3 believes Celebrini should free up the entire Sharks attack of the future: “He’d open up [Will] Smith to be more offensive and would give [Filip] Bystedt third-line mismatches. That’s really good depth down the middle.”

Bystedt was the Sharks’ 2022 first-round draft pick and Smith their 2023 first-round draft pick, so this should be the third consecutive year that general manager Mike Grier selects his center of the future in the first round.

The ex-Jr. Shark could be the linchpin to it all.

“Their player procurement actions and timeline would change immediately,” NHL scout No. 1 said. “It’s really sad to see what the Tank’s attendance has become — he could energize that for the next decade-plus. He becomes the face of the franchise.”

That’s, of course, uh, jumbo-sized expectations for a 17-year-old. The son of Warriors director of sports medicine and performance Rick Celebrini will turn 18 on June 13, about two weeks before the first round of the 2024 draft on June 28 in Las Vegas.

“I’d just be cautious at [projecting] how quickly young players turn it around,” NHL scout No. 3 said, “because it’s taken Buffalo, Edmonton and other [teams] longer than expected when they went young.”

That’s for tomorrow, though. Today? Sharks fans should celebrate: Macklin Celebrini is coming (back) to town.

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