- Ryan S. Clark is an NHL reporter for ESPN.
NASHVILLE — The Anaheim Ducks made it known they were going to take a center with the second pick of Thursday night’s NHL draft, but they kept whom they were going to select a secret.
Many considered University of Michigan freshman Adam Fantilli the favorite, but the Ducks instead opted to take Orebro HK center Leo Carlsson, presenting the first bit of intrigue on draft night after the Chicago Blackhawks used the No. 1 overall pick on Regina Pats center Connor Bedard.
“I had a meeting with the Ducks yesterday,” Carlsson told reporters after he was drafted. “I had a good feeling.”
Fantilli didn’t have to wait long to hear his name, with the Columbus Blue Jackets drafting him with the third pick.
Whomever the Ducks took second, he was going to join a rebuilding team for which promise has been a selling point. Leading that rebuild are players such as Jamie Drysdale, Mason McTavish, Troy Terry and Trevor Zegras. The Ducks’ farm system is also believed to be one of the strongest in the NHL.
Carlsson expressed excitement over the prospect of playing alongside McTavish and Zegras.
“It’s going to be real,” he said. “Two skillful players for sure. I think it’s going to be easy for me to play with them for sure.”
Carlsson and Fantilli offered potential suitors a center down the middle with size, with Carlsson listed at 6-foot-3 and Fantilli at 6-2. Carlsson spent last season in Europe playing against professionals in the SHL, the highest division of Swedish hockey. He scored 10 goals and 25 assists in 44 regular-season games before scoring nine points in 13 playoff games.
Fantilli needed only one season to establish himself as one of the most dominant collegiate players in the nation, leading the nation in goals (30), assists (35) and points (65). Fantilli was one of three finalists for the Hobey Baker Award, given to the nation’s top men’s college player. The honor went to Minnesota forward Matthew Knies, now with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Fantilli said Wednesday night that he had no idea whom the Ducks were going to draft until he heard Carlsson’s name called.
“There are a lot of phenomenal hockey players in this draft and a lot of guys deserve to go as high as they possibly can,” Fantilli said about not going second to the Ducks. “Leo’s a phenomenal hockey player. He’s a great kid, and I wish him the absolute best. Getting to know him was awesome, in Vegas [at the Stanley Cup Final] and at the combine. It was really, really cool to meet him. So, I wish him the best and I’m pumped for him.”
Fantilli was also asked about his future. He became the latest college hockey forward to become a top three pick who was left with a decision. Last year, the Arizona Coyotes drafted Logan Cooley with the third pick after Cooley scored 28 goals and 60 points as a freshman at the University of Minnesota. Cooley ultimately opted to return to the Golden Gophers for his sophomore season.
Seattle Kraken center Matty Beniers, who was the No. 2 pick of the 2021 draft, also spent two seasons at Michigan before leaving school. Beniers’ first full season saw him become an instant contributor with the upstart Kraken, who went from lottery team to playoff team in just their second year of existence. Ultimately, Beniers was named the Calder Trophy Award winner as the NHL’s top rookie.
Fantilli said he is unsure how he will decide.
“I don’t know yet,” Fantilli said. “I have to talk to the team and talk to the people around me, and we’ll see what decision will come out on either side.”
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