Macklin Celebrini

Celebrini, Smith stand out in Sharks prospect scrimmage

NBC Universal, Inc.

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.

The summer’s biggest challenge for the Sharks’ top prospects wasn’t Thursday’s scrimmage or this week’s development camp.

Will Smith, Macklin Celebrini and Quentin Musty among others are hoping to start the season with the Sharks.

Kasper Halttunen, Luca Cagnoni and others are hoping to break camp with the San Jose Barracuda, instead of returning to juniors.

This week’s development camp should be a prelude to a summer of getting bigger, stronger, and faster.

“What are we going to see when they come back? Are they going to be better than they were in development camp?” Sharks director of player development Todd Marchant asked rhetorically after the prospects scrimmage. “Because I have the [fitness] numbers. When they come back, I'm going to compare them to what they were here. They need to go up.”

It's a simple equation, in some ways: Gym time leads to ice time.

“If they don't, then what's going to happen is they're not going to be as good on the ice. And what's going to happen is they're gonna have to go back to junior,” Marchant cautioned. “Nobody wants to go back to junior, but you have to make it hard on us to keep you.”

Marchant and Barracuda head coach John McCarthy shared their impressions about top Sharks prospects like Celebrini, Smith, Musty, Halttunen, Cagnoni, Sam Dickinson, David Edstrom, and more.

I also shared my takeaways from development camp and the prospects scrimmage.

Macklin Celebrini’s maturity

"I haven't seen anything that he looks like a kid that's 18," McCarthy said. "Just with everything that's been thrown at him from the Draft, like being at the Draft, and just seeing the wave of cameras following them all the time. He's mic'd up.

"He's composed, he's mature for that age. He's shown to be older than that age."

Marchant immediately pointed to Celebrini's innate leadership qualities sticking out.

"The first thing that I noticed is that he wants to be first in everything," Marchant said. "The first day after breakfast, they go outside for a little activation warm-up: He's leading his group right away. He's first in line.

"Then you see him on the ice, he's first in the drill. Those things, you don't teach. I can't go to a player and say hey, 'You should be first in line.' They just instinctively have that.

"After the first day on the ice, he was in the gym, riding the bike, and then he had a little workout. He said, 'I just want to get a little extra.' You can't teach that. He just has it in him. That's his personality. It's a pleasure to work with players like that, because they want it. You're just molding them a little bit. They've got the nuts and bolts of what they're going to be, and now it's just helping them put it all together.

"I saw that quality in Scott Niedermayer. He won everything. But talk about a guy that worked harder than everybody in practice? Scott Niedermayer did. And you see that with somebody like Macklin."

Macklin Celebrini wasn’t the first-overall pick of the 2024 Draft just because he was arguably the most-skilled and most complete prospect available.

He also lived up to the off-the-ice hype this week.

Celebrini should rub off on everybody else — on the ice, defensively, off the ice, exercise — if your best player is working his butt off defensively and in the gym, most teammates will follow suit.

Macklin Celebrini’s game

Celebrini's maturity is encouraging, but his work on the ice ultimately is what got him chosen No. 1 overall, something McCarthy was quick to highlight when discussing the phenom's game.

"What stuck out to me was he shoots the puck and he recovers the puck. He gets it back," McCarthy explained.

"His competitiveness on those battles was impressive and you can see why he was selected where he was and why he's had success, that competitive nature. He was getting inside on guys bigger than him, stronger than him. Able to maneuver those situations, I think he does that really well."

Marchant detailed how important it is for Celebrini to adjust to the speed of the game now that he's playing at the NHL level.

"[Macklin and I] had this conversation, a little thing, you cannot get on the wrong side of somebody in the neutral zone," Marchant said. "That doesn't matter who it is, you think that you're a great skater, they're gonna fly by you because they're bigger, stronger, faster, and you're gonna have to get up to that.

"You're gonna have to make sure when you're in the defensive zone, you got to be on the right side of somebody, because they're going to spin off and take it to the net, and next thing, you're gonna be in the penalty box."

Hey, Celebrini is just 18, right?

At the 00:42 mark of the above highlight reel, a tired Celebrini (71) reaches, and Cam Lund (46) teaches.

But McCarthy is right too. While Celebrini didn’t score in the scrimmage, he was hounding pucks like a veteran NHL center.

You could also see, shift after shift, how Celebrini commanded space in the offensive zone, drawing attention then hitting an open teammate with a pass. He made his teammates better today and promises to for a long time.

Macklin Celebrini’s effect

Celebrini immediately gave a jolt to the entire Sharks community after San Jose won the 2024 NHL draft lottery, with his arrival in the South Bay providing hope for a new era of hockey in Northern California.

"He's given a buzz back to the San Jose Sharks organization," Marchant said

"The last couple years have been tough, but he's given that there's a little bit of light at the end of the tunnel. It's starting to open up."

Third-round pick Carson Wetsch said at the 2024 Draft, “Not a better organization [to join] now, it's gonna be the best.”

I don’t think Wetsch says that if the Sharks hadn’t drafted a projected franchise cornerstone like Celebrini.

I haven’t seen this kind of excitement around the Sharks since the last time they were in the playoffs in 2019.

Will Smith

2023 fourth-overall Smith was better in the scrimmage, at least offensively, than his futue running mate Celebrini.

While Celebrini garners the majority of headlines, fellow top prospect Will Smith offers plenty of reason for optimism on his own.

"We were talking about him today," Marchant said. The one play, he brought the puck in, and as soon as he got by the defenseman. He was going around the net, we could see from where we were sitting, he had his head up the whole time. He was looking up the whole time. 'Where are the guys that are open?' That's hard to teach. It's just an instinct for him.

"Bigger, stronger, get in the gym, and then that'll lead to confidence on the ice.

"I firmly believe that [Celebrini and Smith are] both going to be centermen in this league. Sometimes, you gotta learn by being thrown in the fire a little bit."

McCarthy is encouraged by Smith's size and how the prospect looks compared to the last time he saw him.

"He's done a really nice job at this camp," McCarthy said. "He's put his best foot forward. He looks a little bit bigger to me. I haven't seen any data on that. That's just my test. But he looks a little more solid."

It felt like he elevated his game for the occasion, which he did throughout college and at the 2024 World Juniors, when he helped lead Team USA to a gold.

Smith, however, isn’t as physically mature as Celebrini, so these next two months will be critical for him to get bigger, stronger, and faster.

Quentin Musty

The No. 26 overall pick in the 2023 NHL Draft, unfairly, gets lost in all the hoopla around Celebrini and Smith.

"They [Smith and Musty] complement each other really well. Musty's got some size, some strength. Will's pretty shifty."

But Musty, as you can see in Smith’s highlights — they were frequent linemates — is a load to play against, big, fast, and skilled.

It’s unfortunate, as a CHL prospect, that the 18-year-old can’t jump to the AHL.

There’s a lot to iron out defensively, which might be hard to do in junior, when things come a bit easy.

But regardless, the offensive package is tantalizing from the power winger, which we saw all development camp.

Kasper Halttunen

Unlike Musty, European prospect Kasper Halttunen can go to the AHL as a teenager.

Kasper had a great year in London, started out slow, but then he finished strong.

"He dropped some weight," Marchant said. "He dropped actually 10 pounds [from last development camp]

"He mentioned at World Juniors, he was heavy. He didn't feel good. And when he went back to London [Knights], we talked a lot with Mark Hunter and Dale [Hunter], and he started doing extra rides and runs when the team wasn't doing anything. I think he's down to 208, which is fantastic."

"It allows him to be a little quicker on the ice. He's gonna have to continue to work on that.You're gonna have to maintain that by doing the extra work, but you do it, guess what, you'll reap the benefits. Because he's got a world-class shot."

However, while he’s bigger than the 6-foo-t2 Musty, his game is rougher around the edges than his fellow power winger’s.

Like Marchant notes, Halttunen doesn’t necessarily move as well as he could.

Halttunen should benefit from another year with the more pro-style London Knights. Musty’s Sudbury Wolves, though they’re in the same Ontario Hockey League, is more run and gun, which isn’t ideal for molding pro habits.

Luca Cagnoni

Cagnoni is in a different spot than Halttunen — he’d be going back to the CHL as an overager.

Luca had a great season, but now he's going to have to try and play against men, guys that are 10 years older, that have been playing for a long time," McCarthy said. "Navigating that process. You're not going to have as much time as you had in junior, you're not going to be able to try and beat somebody one-on-one with nobody behind you. You've got to make that play to the guy open, play a give-and-go game, so that you're not putting yourself in bad spots."

Besides questions about how Cagnoni’s 5-foot-9 frame will handle pro hockey — he’s sturdy, for sure, but for junior — just as important is how Cagnoni will deal with getting manhandled at the AHL level. Because that’s going to happen at some point.

That mental aspect is overlooked, if you just look at the numbers, from his WHL production to his height or his weight.

There’s no doubt that Cagnoni has high-end offensive tools and real competitive fire — the Sharks should know better than anybody if he’ll beat himself up over a few mistakes.

David Edstrom

A truly underrated prospect in the Sharks’ system, McCarthy shouted out Edstrom’s scrimmage, unprompted.

"He was thorough. I thought he worked above pucks," McCarthy said. "I thought he tried to get inside on loose pucks. Not necessarily a flashy player, but a solid player. Almost plays like kind of a pro style, which makes sense because he plays in a men's league."

The centerpiece, along with the Vegas Golden Knights’ 2025 first-round pick, of the Tomáš Hertl trade, don’t sleep on Edstrom.

The Swedish pivot may never score as much as Celebrini, Smith, Musty, or Halttunen, but he might be just as important to winning.

Sam Dickinson

The 2024 No. 11 pick didn’t knock it out of the park in the scrimmage, but throughout camp, the hulking defenseman showed the attitude and skating and offensive tools that make the Sharks so excited about him.

Big body. Coachable," McCarthy said. "Good interactions, looks you in the eye when you're talking to him. He showed a lot of upside. Exciting prospect."

It’s become a normal thing to say about a Sharks prospect, who seem to be getting bigger and more skilled: He’s a load.

McCarthy also, unprompted, complimented Eric Pohlkamp and Christian Kirsch’s scrimmage.

Safe to say, beyond Celebrini…there’s a lot to be excited with about the Sharks!

Download and follow the San Jose Hockey Now podcast

Contact Us