Perhaps no Blue Jackets player will garner more interest and create more buzz and excitement this season than Adam Fantilli, the No. 3 overall pick in the 2023 NHL Draft.
Fantilli, who will turn 19 on the team's October 12 season opener, was a highly-touted freshman a year ago at the University of Michigan, and surpassed any expectations by scoring 30-35--65 in 36 games, becoming the third freshman to win the Hobey Baker Award as college hockey's most outstanding player.
Congrats Adam Fantilli!— Michigan Hockey (@umichhockey) May 28, 2023
He is the first player to ever win gold at both Worlds and World Juniors, the same year he won the Hobey Baker Award. pic.twitter.com/Jg1FtyJNws
What should the expectations be for Fantilli ahead of his first professional season?
For the sake of this piece, let's assume he plays the entire season in the NHL because while that's a safe assumption, he could also spend the whole year in Cleveland with the AHL's Monsters.
While his offensive output this season could be determined by his line-mates and time on ice, fans should expect Fantilli to make an immediate impact at both ends of the ice.
What does making an impact look like without scoring? Playing good defense, moving well without the puck, and forechecking well.
If he receives consistent top-six minutes in addition to power-play time, can he score a point per game? Absolutely. Should that be the expectation? Absolutely not. No matter how talented he is, he's still a teenager playing in the best league in the world. Furthermore, if Fantilli does indeed play as a top-two center, he's going to go up against some of the league's best players in his own division like Sidney Crosby, Jack Hughes, Mika Zibanejad, Sebastian Aho, Mathew Barzal, and others on a nightly basis. However, he is a generational talent and prospect, so expecting between 50 and 60 points this season wouldn't be an overreaction.
Aside from the points, there should be growth throughout the season. It might not always be smooth for Fantilli, and that's okay. There will be off nights, but as long as he's a better player a year from today than he is now, that would mark a successful rookie season.
Whether he scores or not, make no mistake, he will make an impact. Even before he's stepped on the ice, he's probably the best center the Blue Jackets have ever had.