‘It would be pretty special’: Macklin Celebrini is coming ‘home’ to the Sharks — and his parents

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Under the bright lights of the NHL Network studio — and soon to be in the spotlight as the presumptive No. 1 pick of next month’s NHL Draft — Macklin Celebrini’s reaction to the San Jose Sharks winning the draft lottery was a bit, well … muted.

“Obviously, San Jose is an amazing organization,” Celebrini said Tuesday in a post-lottery interview on ESPN. “It’s pretty cool.”

Let’s chalk that up to him being 17 years old, even if he already possesses NHL-level talent and plays a mature game beyond his years. Celebrini was named the top player in college hockey this season as a freshman and will be among the centerpieces of the Sharks’ massive rebuilding effort. Maybe he felt a little nervous after being made the highlight of the telecast. Or maybe he hadn’t processed all the emotions of the moment, even if there will be no suspense when the first round starts on June 28 in Las Vegas.

The reaction was much more boisterous in San Jose, as a gathering of die-hard fans who have watched their Sharks fade sharply from Western Conference power broker status over the last few years broke into a big celebration when deputy commissioner Bill Daly announced the Sharks as the possessors of the No. 1 pick — the first time that’s happened in franchise history.

A Macklin Celebration, indeed.

“It’s a big moment for the organization and the fans here to be able to have the opportunity to draft someone like Macklin,” said Sharks general manager Mike Grier, who knew San Jose’s 19-win season always was pointed to this moment. “It was a tough year for us. To have this opportunity, we couldn’t be more excited.”

A great storyline also was fulfilled on Tuesday. Celebrini played minor hockey in the Jr. Sharks program as a 13-year-old after he and his family moved to the Bay Area from their North Vancouver home when his father, Rick, took a position as director of sports medicine and performance with the NBA’s Golden State Warriors. Rick and his wife, Robyn, and their four children continue to make Northern California their home base. Now they can soon watch Macklin skate with the real Sharks nearby.

In an interview with The Athletic after the lottery on Tuesday, Rick Celebrini called lottery day “a little nerve-wracking and exciting.” Like Macklin, he didn’t want to be presumptive, even if everyone else was. But he did acknowledge that the Sharks taking Macklin with the No. 1 would leave them ecstatic.

“We’re a very tight-knit family,” Rick said. “Very close. And so to have the potential for one of our kids — they’re on their athletic, their sports journey — if it were to happen that their first team just happens to be where we are residing and what we’re calling home right now for the last six years … we’re proud and really enjoy our lives in the Bay Area (and) for Macklin to be close to home where he’s got his mom and I can check in on him and he’s got the support and the resources to help transition, especially as a 17-year-old, it would be pretty special.”

The elder Celebrini finished his thought by again adding the phrase, “if that were to happen,” but there is no “if” at work here. Grier and the Sharks will obviously select Macklin Celebrini, and then the two sides will work together to see what would be best for Macklin next season regarding his development. Rick Celebrini said it hasn’t been ruled out that his son could return to BU for a second season.

That might not be the best thing to hear for Sharks faithful who plan to attend games in 2024-25. It is still up in the air as to whether 2023 first-round pick Will Smith will join them, as he’s yet to sign an entry-level contract. The 19-year-old who led the NCAA in scoring at Boston College was just named to the Team USA world championships roster. Perhaps what he does there may provide a window into whether he’s ready to leave college.

But that shouldn’t dim this joyous, potentially franchise-shifting day for the Sharks. It followed months of losing, and it will still be a tough slog next season, and possibly even the one after, but they’ve got their man — well, teenager, as Celebrini turns 18 two weeks before the draft. And the fan base now can shower their affection on a player in his adopted hometown.

“I’ve lived there for a little bit growing up, obviously, with my dad with the Warriors,” Celebrini said. “Obviously, they’re a great organization. If I’m fortunate enough to get drafted there, I’ll be very lucky.”

Celebrini is the player that Grier and the Sharks will help usher in a new era, the one they hope will be at the forefront of their elevation toward being competitive every night and then, eventually, to being a contender again.

A lot of steps must be navigated, and there’s obviously no guarantee that the first Stanley Cup championship in franchise history will be at the end of that journey. Adding Celebrini to their growing pipeline of young talent doesn’t exactly guarantee that the Sharks will be a powerhouse in five years. But to have the Boston University star and Hobey Baker Award winner as part of the arduous journey will help make it worth plowing through this stretch of often frightful hockey.

The Sharks were once blessed, during their long stretch of playoff seasons, with players such as Patrick Marleau, Joe Thornton, Joe Pavelski, Logan Couture and Tomas Hertl patrolling the middle. They were deep enough there to where some of those stars were pushed to the wings. That’s all gone now, but pairing Celebrini with another eventual Shark — Smith, his current Boston College rival — does portend the nucleus of a brighter future. There now will be two franchise centers at the heart of their new core.

“I think he’s a 200-foot player, which is rare for someone who is as offensively gifted as he is,” Grier said of Celebrini. “As a 17-year-old, he plays a real complete game. Both ends of the ice. He cares. I love his competitiveness. I watch him practice and he goes as hard as he can in every drill. Wants to win every puck battle.

“I think he’s a real unique player at this age. Plays a full, complete game. We’re really excited.”

(Photo of Macklin Celebrini: Mike Stobe / NHLI via Getty Images)

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