The 2023 NHL Draft got a ton of spotlight during the world under-18s as Connor Bedard and Matvei Michkov played a fun little game of anything-you-can-do-I-do-better. Canada's Bedard snagged the gold medal and all-star team honors while Michkov settled for silver, but also won tourney MVP honors.
But there was another 2023 phenom getting work done at the time and that was center Adam Fantilli. The Chicago Steel rookie ended his season as MVP of the USHL playoffs, racking up eight goals and nine points in eight games as the Steel romped to the Clark Cup. It was an impressive feat for a 16-year-old kid playing in a league that saw a number of players return from the NCAA or come in from Canadian junior leagues due to pandemic cancellations this year.
One such player was Harvard commit Sean Farrell, the Montreal Canadiens draft pick who returned to the Steel when the Crimson cancelled their season. Farrell made the USHL pay, becoming the first player in nearly a decade to break the 100-point mark when he rolled up 101 in just 53 games. He was also a great role model.
"I watched him in practice and games as much as I could," Fantilli said. "Everyone saw how amazing he did this year and playing with him and Josh Doan was really great for me. They made a ton of plays and put me in good positions."
The Steel will lose a lot of high-end talent to the NCAA next season, but the franchise has also built up an enviable system that will allow younger players to take on bigger roles next season – and a lot of those players have high-end potential, too. It's reminiscent of what the OHL's London Knights have done and Fantilli will certainly be one of the brightest lights in Chicago next season.
"I want to advance my game in every way possible," he said. "And Chicago is the best spot in the world for me to do that right now."
Fantilli's future after that is wide open. Naturally, he has a number of paths available to him, but the youngster is in no hurry to make a final decision: there are plenty of talks to have with his family and advisors first. In the interest of due diligence, the Toronto native has made a couple of campus visits already, checking out the University of Michigan and the University of North Dakota. Older brother Luca Fantilli, who played defense for the Steel this year, is committed to the Wolverines himself, but Adam also hasn't shut the door on the OHL (the Saginaw Spirit currently own his major junior rights).
Needless to say, wherever he ends up, the 6-foot-2, 190-pound Fantilli will be bringing an elite set of tools with him.
"Athletically, he's a freak," said one NHL scout. "He's an NHL body right now. He's big, long, explosive, fast and skilled."
Fantilli has always been advanced, with one of the best examples being the 2019 OHL Cup final when he squared off against a juggernaut Don Mills Flyers U16 team. That Flyers squad featured Shane Wright, the 2022 NHL draft phenom, plus 2021 draft prospects Brandt Clarke, Brennan Othmann and Roman Schmidt. Fantilli had 2021 prospects Francesco Pinelli and Justin Ertel on his Toronto Red Wings team and they gave Don Mills all they could handle before falling 6-5 in overtime (it was one of the best junior games I've ever seen live in my life).
Eventually, the NHL will come calling but that won't be for a few years yet. In the meantime, Fantilli is back home in Toronto for the summer after an eventful season in Chicago. No doubt next year will bring more of a spotlight on him – and the kid certainly deserves it.