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Will Macklin Celebrini return to Boston University?

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SAN JOSE – After the San Jose Sharks signed Will Smith to an entry-level contract, thoughts began to percolate about the positive impact he and fellow center Macklin Celebrini could have on the team’s fortunes, starting, perhaps, as soon as this fall.

After all, Smith and Celebrini combined for 135 points in 79 games this past season, ranking first and second among all NCAA Division I players in average points per game. They’re special players.

The Sharks selected Smith fourth overall at last year’s NHL Draft in Nashville. They then won this year’s draft lottery and are expected to take Celebrini with the No. 1 overall pick on June 28 in Las Vegas.

At least one analyst, NHL Network’s EJ Hradek, believes Celebrini, who doesn’t turn 18 until mid-June, would be better off returning to Boston University for another year of development rather than joining the rebuilding Sharks. He also said the 19-year-old Smith probably would have also benefitted from being a sophomore at Boston College.

“My advice would have simply been just to stay in school another year and sign at the end of the college year,” Hradek told Bay Area News Group. “Go have a great experience. Continue to develop, get bigger, stronger, and be more ready to be an impact player in the National Hockey League.

“But that’s just me talking out loud. They’re not my (sons). I’m not their representative. It’s just what I’ve observed over many years.”

Hradek pointed to center Jonathan Toews, who Celebrini has been compared to, and a more recent example of defenseman Cale Makar as two players who benefitted from a second year in the NCAA.

Toews, a three-time Stanley Cup champion with the Chicago Blackhawks likely bound for the Hockey Hall of Fame, played at North Dakota from 2005 to 2007, and Makar, a Conn Smythe and Norris Trophy award winner, played at UMass-Amherst from 2017 to 2019 before he joined the Colorado Avalanche.

Defenseman Owen Power, selected first overall by the Buffalo Sabres in 2021, went back for a second season at Michigan after he was drafted.

“You get to play fewer games on the year, you get to continue to train and develop your body and continue to mature in every way,” Hradek said. “(Smith and Celebrini) are very mature people. I’m sure they will do well. But it is a hard league, 82 games with a team that is rebuilding.

“But if you’re the San Jose Sharks, it’s a business, you’re looking to sell tickets, and you have two really high-end young pieces. You’d like them to be there.”

Celebrini’s father, Dr. Rick Celebrini, the Warriors’ vice president of player health and performance, told reporters after the draft lottery that another season at BU for Macklin is not out of the question.

“(Warriors coach) Steve Kerr and I have had these conversations,” Celebrini said. “The reality is the NBA, the NHL, these are not development leagues. You’re either ready, or you’re not.”

Assuming the Sharks draft Macklin, Rick Celebrini said they’ll sit down with the team’s brass to understand “what their plan is with him, specifically with the team. Whether that is a win-win for the team and for Macklin, and certainly, the option to go back to Boston University with the coaches he had there and he would have is a phenomenal option as well.

“So we wouldn’t hesitate to consider that.”

Sharks general manager Mike Grier has mentioned the need to have the right type of veteran players around to support the upcoming crop of prospects, both on the ice and off. While a big spending spree by Grier is likely not in order this offseason, the Sharks do have plenty of cap space available to bolster their lineup with a few respected vets.

“It’ll be incumbent on Mike Grier to really surround these guys with veteran players that will help insulate (Smith and Celebrini) and help them through their first year in the NHL,” Hradek said.

Among those already in-house are forwards Logan Couture, Mikael Granlund, Nico Sturm, and Luke Kunin. Couture has three years left on his contract and hopes to return to form this fall after a groin injury limited him to six games this past season. Granlund and Sturm are set to become unrestricted free agents on July 1, 2025.

Kunin is a pending RFA but plays a certain no-nonsense style that the Sharks want more of in their lineup. He and Smith were both part of the U.S. team at the recently completed world championships.

“It was nice having someone that I can ask questions to or wanted to find out any information on the Sharks,” Smith said of Kunin. “He was awesome.”

Grier said after the draft lottery that he would soon speak with Celebrini’s representative “and see where everyone’s heads at.” Grier and Celebrini will also likely speak sometime during the draft combine, which starts Sunday in Buffalo, N.Y.



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