Macklin Celebrini

Why Pandolfo is confident Celebrini is ready to help Sharks win now

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Editor's Note: Sheng Peng will be a regular contributor to NBC Sports California’s Sharks coverage. You can read more of his coverage on San Jose Hockey Now, listen to him on the San Jose Hockey Now Podcast, and follow him on Twitter at @Sheng_Peng.

Jay Pandolfo knows a winner when he sees one.

Before Pandolfo became head coach of Boston University and surefire 2024 first-overall pick Macklin Celebrini, the checking winger hoisted Stanley Cups with the New Jersey Devils in 1999 and 2003.

So when Pandolfo tells you that Celebrini is a type of player that you win with, it means something.

Pandolfo spoke with San Jose Hockey Now this week about why the future Sharks No. 1 pick is NHL-ready right now, how Celebrini helps establish a winning culture and why he’s like Jonathan Toews … and Sidney Crosby.

Sheng Peng: San Jose is obviously a tough situation for a teenage hockey player to walk into – what makes Macklin Celebrini suited to join a rebuild?

Jay Pandolfo: I just think his maturity, his competitiveness.

He's the type of person that loves challenges. That's kind of how he's wired. Knowing him, he'll take it as a challenge to try to help the Sharks rebuild. He takes pride in being the guy that can help.

That's just how he is, he's so prepared. He does things the right way. Knowing him, he'll do everything he can to make sure he puts himself, preparation-wise, ready for the challenge.

Also, the maturity off the ice. He's very mature for his age.

For a while now, he's been looked at probably since he was 14, 15, as the No. 1 pick, and now we're here, and most likely he's going to be, that's hard to live up to for that many years.

He's done that.

He's gotten even better, [increased] the gap. A lot of people talked, going into this year or even last summer, projected No. 1 pick, but to actually live up to that, and even push yourself even further away from the pack is pretty impressive.

SP: You’ve said that Celebrini, as a 17-year-old, was able to fit in seamlessly with an older Boston University locker room. Do you think he’ll be able to do the same in a veteran NHL room?

JP: It's somewhat similar. Not, obviously, exactly the same.

But he walked in as a 17-year-old, and we have guys on our roster that are 24 and 25 years old.

I think just the way he carries himself, I think the way he does things, how prepared he is, how hard he works, how competitive he is. That's what other hockey players want to see. That's how he is.

He's humble as well. So I think all those things, guys will gravitate towards him, and just be impressed by how he carries himself. I think that goes a long way from fitting in just from that standpoint alone.

SP: I’ve heard stories about him picking up pucks after practice and Sharks GM Mike Grier mentioned BU coaches having to throw him off the ice.

JP: Yeah, he just wants to get better every day and he loves the work part of it too. He'll do everything he can to improve. And he does it on a daily basis.

Every day he shows up, he's trying to get better at something. Everything he does, he does with a purpose. He practices with a purpose. He trains off ice with a purpose. He watches video with a purpose. He has a purpose behind everything he does. That's a big reason why he is who he is and where he's at.

In saying that, he's a good teammate, he understands this year, he's a freshman. We don't tell the freshmen to do certain things. But you know how it is.

Just like a rookie in the NHL, they're gonna do things, they're gonna pick up pucks, they gonna do that sort of stuff. He has no issues doing things like that. He's just a good teammate.

He loves the game, he has a passion for it. So right there, those things alone, teammates see that sort of stuff. And it's just instant respect.

SP: The Sharks want to instill a winning culture, and it sounds like Macklin won’t just be a part of it, he’ll be leading that culture, dragging everyone into it?

JP: There's no question. That's what he does. He drags guys into the fight. Every day in practice, he amps up the competitiveness of practice, just because he doesn't give anyone an inch. He doesn't take a drill off. He just pushes and that pulls the group along. I think he's going to do the same thing at the NHL level.

Even our guys, early on, when he first got to BU, first week or two in practice, I think guys were surprised that a kid this age had that much of an impact on pushing the group. I think they respected that. He pulled our group along this year as a 17-year-old, which is not easy to do.

SP: You’ve stated before that you think Celebrini is NHL-ready right now. Why do you think that?

JP: It's just his whole overall game. Physically, he's 195 pounds. So he's very strong.

He plays both ends of the ice, he does not sacrifice defense to go on offense. When it's time to play defense, he does his job that way. His details in his game are so mature, we talked about him being mature as a person, but his game is mature.

Like he has a really good stick, he just does things the right way. He knows how to play the game, he understands how to play the game, and for a kid that young. That's why I feel like he can play at the next level because he's not going to cheat the game.

He's strong on his skates, he's not going in as an 18-year-old at 160 pounds, 170 pounds, he's physically mature.

A lot of times with the younger players, there's different parts of the game that they really need to work on. Of course, he needs to refine certain parts of his game, everyone does, even when they're 25, 26 years old, but he already has that base in every aspect of the game, which is really, really impressive.

SP: Celebrini has many skills, but what do you think is his greatest skill?

JP: I think his competitiveness. I consider that a skill. His competitiveness is off the charts. It drives him in so many different ways. Drives him to be better every day. It drives him in competition. It drives him in practice. All these things.

I think that's something that separates him.

Obviously, his [soft] skill, he builds his skill off of that.

He's just a good overall hockey player where he can score, he can make plays, he's good defensively. You can't say enough good things about the way he plays.

SP: He sounds very well-rounded, but what does he need to improve?

JP: I mean, there's always stuff to work on. There's not like one thing. I just think getting better in every area. He's pretty solid in all areas. So it's just continuing to improve in every area is just going to make him a more, he's already a complete player, but a more complete player. That's what I see. There's not a lot of deficiencies that I've seen his game.

A lot of times [with other players], you'll talk about defensively and things like that, maybe not having a good stick, all these different things, angles, whatever it may be. He's pretty good in all those areas. He just needs to continue to grow those areas.

SP: Do you think he can step in right now into the NHL as a center?

JP: I do. I do.

I think the one thing, maybe the faceoffs will be something, he got better at it over the course of the year this year. That will be a challenge for him. But that's something that he knows, he'll work on those things.

But from a defensive standpoint, I think there's no question he can play center in the National Hockey League. He understands how to play the center position down low and how to support the puck in all areas. So I do think he can play center right away.

SP: It’s rare for a 17-year-old to play such a complete game, to have a mature defensive game. Where do you think that comes from?

JP: I just think it's his overall outlook on everything, just being prepared in every area.

I don't really know why he's that good on the other side of the puck. When guys are that good offensively that young, they're gonna cheat the game, right? That's normal. They're gonna cheat to offense. He just, for whatever reason, he doesn't do that.

I don't know if it's when he was younger, he didn't like getting scored on, so he made sure he was good defensively. I just think that's kind of the way he's wired. He's wired to be good in every aspect of the game.

SP: What do you think wired him that way?

JP: I don't know if it that's from being around pro sports from a young age. His dad [Rick Celebrini] worked for Vancouver, his dad working for the Golden State Warriors, a championship organization. Being around that, and watching, he's very observant, watching Steph Curry and Draymond Green and watching these guys. He observant and he picks up a lot of things. Maybe that's part of it, too, understanding that it takes more than just offense to win.

He just picks up...everything. Just different things. He watches a lot of hockey So just from regular talks with him, he sees things that he watches NHL players do, so he wants to improve at those things. So he's just really observant with all that stuff.

SP: You’re someone who’s familiar with winning hockey. Why do you think Macklin will become that type of player, a playoff guy, a player that you win with?

JP: Like all the stuff we've talked about, the way he's wired, how competitive he is, how he's a complete player. Those are the types of guys you win with. He doesn't cheat the game. He does things the right way. I think that's a big part of it.

SP: You’ve compared Macklin to both Jonathan Toews and Sidney Crosby. Toews is a comp that we’ve heard before, but why Sid? This, of course, is acknowledging that nobody will be Sidney Crosby.

JP: Talking about those two guys, he's somewhat of a blend of those two guys.

Clearly, he's really good offensively. But he also is relied on heavily on the defensive side of things, just like those two guys. It wasn't like they were just a one-trick pony.

Crosby [is] a guy that really likes to attack through the middle of the ice. He's very strong on pucks, down low. All those things.

Macklin has a lot of those attributes.

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