Coming into the season, there was nearly-unprecedented hype around freshman forward Adam Fantilli. Before he played a single game, the projected top-three pick drew comparisons to multiple stars from the Michigan hockey team’s past.
And just as expected, Fantilli is bursting onto the scene.
Through just six career games, the freshman forward has tallied a whopping 15 points, five goals and 10 assists. With a hat trick, four-point night, and a Big Ten First Star of the Week already under his belt, Fantilli is immediately racking up enough accolades for an entire season.
As expected, the hockey world is taking notice. Rumors are beginning to swirl about whether Fantilli could ascend to the first-overall pick in the 2022 NHL draft, surpassing the previously-assumed No. 1 Connor Bedard, a forward with the WHL’s Regina Pats. Every day, more and more comes out about just how impressive Fantilli’s play has been.
But according to his brother — and teammate — he’s not even looking at it.
“All those things come out, I don’t even think he reads them,” freshman defenseman Luca Fantilli said Tuesday. “He just puts his head down, works and then whatever happens, happens. Good things are gonna happen, that’s for sure.”
Thus far, Luca’s right. It has only been good things for Adam.
But as his draft stock rises, so too does the pressure on him. With every stellar performance comes more articles about him, more mock drafts with his name at the top, more expectations for an 18-year-old to carry on his shoulders.
Still, the people around him aren’t worried. They see Adam, at the top of his game, thrust into pressure that people that young rarely deal with, brushing it off and playing his game. Somehow, he remains as close as possible to unfazed.
“I’ve heard a lot of this stuff and he’s so even-keeled,” Luca said. “He’s so calm and cool, and nothing really, I’ve never seen anything affect him. He just kind of keeps working.”
As he deals with the expectations of a future star, though, Adam plays his game just like any other player. While other future top picks might try to protect themselves and their body, Adam isn’t too focused on that. Whenever there’s a post-whistle mix-up on the ice, he’s there to stick up for his own teammates.
“You feel safe when he’s out there with you,” Luca said. “He’s cool with all the pressure, but when someone messes with his teammate, he doesn’t like that very much. … He’ll go after him, for sure.”
Of course, there is a concern that Adam will spend more time than he should in the box, hurting the fourth-ranked Wolverines by taking one of their best players off the ice. With five penalties in six games, good for second-most on the team, that concern isn’t unfounded. But as long as Adam continues to put up numbers like he has, it’s hard to find much reason to change that.
In fact, with these numbers, it’s hard to find how his game can progress at all. But just like any other player, Michigan coach Brandon Naurato is keeping him steady, commending his success but finding areas where he can still improve.
“I called him out twice on the ice today,” Naurato said Tuesday. “The pucks are going in, but there’s way more from him. He can be even better.”
Naurato didn’t identify any particular areas in which Adam can better his game, rather stating that at a mere 18 years old, there’s still plenty to work on. As Naurato tries to develop him for success in college and transition him into an “impact player” in the NHL, Adam’s immense talent will still continue to be shaped and refined — just like any other member of the Wolverines.
But as much as he’s treated like anyone else, as much as he plays with the physicality of a career fourth-line grinder, that immense talent has already turned him into one of college hockey’s brightest young stars.
“It’s not a fluke,” Naurato said. “He’s not just on a hot streak.”