Intrigue of 2024 NHL Draft expected to begin with Blackhawks after likely top pick Celebrini

San Jose Sharks general manager Mike Grier is trying to keep whom he’s selecting with the first pick in the NHL draft on Friday a mystery, even after he more than hinted at his intentions last month.

After excitedly noting the big opportunity it was for a rebuilding franchise to select Macklin Celebrini upon winning the draft lottery last month, Grier has since decided to play coy regarding college hockey’s top player, who has topped draft charts for more than a year and has ties to the Bay Area.

"We’ll see come Friday night," Grier said this week.

And yet, the third-year GM gushed when asked what more he’s learned about the Boston University center over the past six weeks.

"We had dinner with him and he sat at a table with eight grown men and held the conversation, and was at ease and comfortable," Grier said of dining with Celebrini at the combine three weeks ago.

"When you sit down with him for two minutes, you really feel his drive and competitiveness. It just seeps out of him," he added. "He’s a driven kid. He’s an alpha."

In other words, the just-turned 18-year-old is the type of foundational piece Grier can use to add to a deepening talented prospect pool in rebuilding a franchise in the midst of its longest playoff drought, now spanning five years.

At 6 feet and nearly 200 pounds, Celebrini finished second in the nation with 32 goals and third with 64 points in 38 games as college hockey’s youngest player. Though from North British Columbia, Celebrini spent a year playing for the Junior Sharks program after his father, Rick, was hired as vice president of player health and performance for the NBA’s Golden State Warriors.

With Celebrini likely going first, the intrigue revolves around the order of the next five picks; whether the two-day draft will feature a major trade or two with Toronto’s Mitch Marner and Columbus’ Patrik Laine being shopped; and the visual indoor and outdoor spectacle Las Vegas' year-old Sphere will play in hosting its first sporting event.

Celebrini's looking forward to enjoying the Sphere experience in more ways than one.

"I've never been," he said, Wednesday. "From everything I've heard about it, it's going to be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity."

As for his lengthy pre-draft process coming to a close, Celebrini said: "It’s a big moment, something that I’ve dreamed of ever since I was a kid. To get this opportunity, I’m excited, nervous, grateful."

The draft also serves as a coming out party for the Utah Hockey Club, following the franchise’s offseason relocation from Arizona to Salt Lake City.

"You’ll have to wait and see," GM Bill Armstrong said of which color jerseys will be donned by the team’s new group of prospects, with Utah currently having 13 picks through the seven-round draft, starting with No. 6.

The Chicago Blackhawks will influence how the draft unfolds in having the No. 2 pick, a year after choosing center Connor Bedard No. 1 last year.

Without saying whom the Blackhawks have identified at No. 2, GM Kyle Davidson said his staff enjoyed a healthy debate in reaching their decision.

"There’s great options. And so when you have great options, then you have to talk it through," Davidson said Thursday. "If it was a no-brainer, then we probably would have known months ago or whenever the lottery was."

The prevailing wisdom has Chicago’s choice split between two defensemen, Michigan State’s Artyom Levshunov and Russian Anton Silayev, and Russian forward Ivan Demidov.

While Levshunov left his native Belarus to play in North America two years ago, the Russian prospects raise questions because NHL teams are restricted from entering the country to scout and meet players since the war in Ukraine.

Davidson hasn’t yet met Silayev, who is listed at 6-foot-7 and 211 pounds, but did get a chance to meet Demidov at a player agent-run combine of Russian players in Florida last week.

"A really impressive young man," Davidson said of Demidov. "It was a really great piece of information for us. And a great sort of button to put on the draft process that was necessary for everything to come in."

Anaheim is scheduled to pick third, followed by Columbus and Montreal.

Other top prospects among the top five are Medicine Hat Tigers center Cayden Lindstrom and University of Denver defenseman Zeev Buium.

Central Scouting Director Dan Marr says the top of this year’s draft class is especially deep at defensemen who bring a variety of strengths.

"No two are the same. It’s like a smorgasbord," Marr said.

A position not deep in talent is goalie, with some projecting the first goaltender coming off the board in the third round. The top-rated goalie is considered to be Mikhail Yegorov, who is from Moscow, played for USHL Omaha last season and is committed to attending BU.

The overcall uncertainty due to how teams rank Demidov and Silayev, leaves Armstrong having various different plans at No. 6.

"It’s a guessing game right now," he said.

What is clear is how Salt Lake City has embraced its NHL franchise.

"People are waiving to me in the street, and it’s kind of weird because they know who you are in Salt Lake City. And when you’re in Arizona, you went undetected," Armstrong said. "This is a big thing in the state of Utah and in Salt Lake, and you can feel that."


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