2024 NHL Draft Lottery takeaways: Macklin Celebrini’s college decision, the Russian factor and more

The conclusion of U18 worlds and the NHL Draft Lottery is your final signal that draft season is officially upon us. The first-round order is taking shape, the playoff field is shrinking, and it looks like Macklin Celebrini will be a San Jose Shark in seven weeks.



Sharks win 2024 NHL Draft Lottery, chance to choose Macklin Celebrini

The USHL’s Clark Cup Championship begins Friday between Dubuque and Fargo. The Memorial Cup will follow in Saginaw, Mich. A select few prospects will have one last chance to showcase themselves at men’s worlds. Preparations for final scouting meetings are underway, as scouts review some last-minute tape. And then the year will conclude in Buffalo, N.Y., at the NHL Scouting Combine with testing and final interviews.

As everything comes into focus ahead of the NHL’s last centralized draft in Las Vegas on June 28 and 29, and as I sort through what the now-almost-set draft order means myself, here are the big questions I’m considering and everything I’m thinking about.

What does this mean for Macklin Celebrini’s college decision?

I wrote before the lottery that I believed the results could influence Macklin Celebrini’s college decision. He has said publicly that he’s not opposed to going back, and has suggested privately that he’s considering it. It being San Jose makes it a particularly interesting and layered decision. They’re a long way away, maybe the furthest of the bunch. Next season is quite likely going to be another ugly one for them on the ice. Does that make a return to Boston University more likely? I’d think yes.

There are pulls in that direction, too. He’s a late birthday. His close friend Cole Eiserman is going to be a Terrier next season. Nobody has ever won back-to-back Hobey Baker Awards. He could chase that World Junior gold in Ottawa (I know Hockey Canada hasn’t ruled having him out). There’s a lot to consider and now less of a rush to jump into the NHL, I’d think. That doesn’t mean he doesn’t sign, but the case to return is likely more compelling now.

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Will Macklin Celebrini return to Boston University next season? (Richard T Gagnon / Getty Images)

If Celebrini turns pro, what’s a reasonable rookie season projection?

If he does sign, the Sharks’ depth down the middle is as thin as there is in the league and he could quite conceivably jump right into their top-six. It’s worth noting that I’m very confident he’s ready to play in the NHL, so the decision to go back shouldn’t be about that. He’s physically prepared. His game has the required roundedness to fit into pro structure and hold the responsibilities of playing down the middle in the best league in the world. He’s got the skill, and playmaking, and instincts, and strength, and skating, and smarts, and all the rest. I think he’s a contributing, even impactful player from Day 1. From Day 1, and without much trouble, he could score 20 goals and 40 points and be a strong component of their PP1, and play with their more talented wingers. Is there enough talent there, around him, to get to the 50-60 point territory, is the question?

And the answer is that we don’t really know, because they have fewer cap commitments up front than any other team in the league for 2024-25. They’ll likely want to know if he’s going to sign in the days between the draft on June 28 and free agency on July 1 so that they can plan their summer accordingly. His decision to turn pro shouldn’t accelerate their process, but it might mean they prioritize a certain kind of veteran.

He’s going to be a stud, though, so Sharks fans don’t need to get carried away if he doesn’t sign. We’re talking about a true star center long term. A No. 1 with point-per-game upside who can make a difference in so, so many ways in a game. Suddenly, they’ve got a good young nucleus forming with Celebrini, Will Smith (I wonder if they try him on the wing with Celebrini eventually), Filip Bystedt, David Edstrom, Quentin Musty, William Eklund and Co.

Who do the Blackhawks take second?

This is where the draft starts, and it’s a more compelling selection than usual because what’s normally a group of maybe three or four players in contention for No. 2 in your average draft is half a dozen for some teams and close to double-digits depending on who you ask. Belarusian D and Michigan State freshman standout Artyom Levshunov, towering Russian defenceman Anton Silayev, and Russian winger Ivan Demidov are the consensus next two, but there are teams that are really high on Medicine Hat centre Cayden Lindstrom, Denver star and national champion Zeev Buium, OHL D Sam Dickinson and Zayne Parekh, and even Spokane centre Berkly Catton.

Levshunov and Demidov make the most sense for Chicago though, I think, so I’d zero in on those two names. Levshunov’s a big, strong, physically imposing defender with a long stride who plays a very eager and active offensive game and has high-end defensive potential. They’ve prioritized big D who can skate and move it at the draft in recent years and adding him to a young group that already includes Kevin Korchinski, Alex Vlasic and Ethan Del Mastro could really establish a strong core identity for that blue line behind all of the speed and skill they’ve already drafted up front (see: Connor Bedard, Oliver Moore, Frank Nazar, etc.).

Demidov would add another elite skill player up front to Bedard, and a potential winger of the future for him, though as well. And that is really exciting to consider. Those are two of the most purely talented young players on the planet right now and could both really complement each other at five-on-five and on the power play. Huge day for the Blackhawks, in either scenario.

Is there still a Russian factor?

The biggest question at the top of last year’s draft — the biggest shoe to drop, if you will — was Matvei Michkov. It was a topic and talking point that persisted all the way through to the eve of the draft itself, with teams putting together last-minute meetings with him in Nashville.

With Russia still not participating in international events, few actual NHL staff on the ground in the country to see them live, and another year without them at the combine, many of the practical challenges of a year ago persisted this season in scouting and getting face time with projected top picks like Demidov and Silayev.

In an effort to offset them, Dan Milstein’s Gold Star Hockey, the predominant player agency for Russian prospects, is hosting a showcase for its clients in Florida the week before the draft. Though Gold Star doesn’t represent Silayev, Demidov and a number of top Russian prospects for the draft will be there and teams are planning to make their attendance a priority. Some of them, like Matvei Gridin of the Muskegon Lumberjacks and Levshunov, they’ve already had a chance to meet with. But other Gold Star clients, like projected first-rounder Igor Chernyshov and potential second-rounders Yegor Surin and Matvei Shuravin, teams haven’t even seen on the ice.

There are teams that have shown more of a predisposition/comfort level to taking and recruiting Russians in the last couple of years. The Sharks have shown a willingness to tap into the market. The then-Coyotes took Lokomotiv teammates Dmitri Simashev and Daniil But at No. 6 and No. 12 last year, drafted Vadim Moroz in the third round and helped facilitate Artyom Duda’s move to North America. The Blue Jackets and Sabres have a number of Russians within their organizations, with several in the NHL in Columbus and several on the way in Buffalo’s prospect pool. Canadiens co-director of amateur scouting Nick Bobrov is Russian and understands the landscape. It’s a complicated web and teams will be trying to read the hands of others.

Sometimes, not moving down is winning 

There’s something to be said about staying put. Just ask teams like the Detroit Red Wings, who’ve been repeatedly leapfrogged over the years in this exercise. So if you’re a Ducks or a Blue Jackets fan, rest assured: You might not get to pick the top player but you’re going to get to pick from a group of premium assets.

That’s particularly true for the Ducks. They’ve already got Leo Carlsson, and Mason McTavish, and Pavel Mintyukov, and Cutter Gauthier and Olen Zellweger. They’re going to get another player of that quality, and likely the one they’ve spent recent meetings focused on, whoever that is, at No. 3. They might have, too, even if they’d slid to No. 4 or No. 5. But now it’s close to a sure thing. When they tell you they got their guy on draft day, they’re probably going to be telling the truth.

Trades? Everybody always asks about trades …

If you’ve submitted questions to my Q&As or mailbags at The Athletic over the years, you’ll know that I tire of questions about whether team X, Y or Z in the top 10 could move their pick to Team A, B, or C lower down. They almost never happen. They’re very hard to make happen. And, to use an old newspaper adage, our column inches are better spent on topics that feel more real and possible. But in a draft like this, where there are 15-16 players that have been given serious top-10 consideration at some point over the years, it does feel like things are more ripe for trading down and hoping your guy in that big group is still available. Now: If everyone knows that, then trading up becomes less desirable (and also a better position to bargain from when the team that wants to consider moving down gives you a call). But still, I’ll theorize with you all just this once. So which teams are likely to consider moving back?

The Canadiens, naturally, make the most sense. This a draft of more high-end D than is typical, but there’s still a finite number of them (five or six, depending on who you ask). They’re going to go early and often and the Habs have David Reinbacher, Kaiden Guhle, Lane Hutson and Logan Mailloux in tow. If they’ve settled on two or three forwards they like, moving back with a team that wants one of those top D would make a lot of sense. The Flames feel like a natural dance partner as a team that is trying to prioritize the future, has a number of strong prospects, but could really use an A-grade piece to build around.

I wonder if Utah could look to make a splash, as well.

(Photo: Mike Stobe / NHLI via Getty Images)

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