At the championship game of the OHL Cup last spring, there were two players who were so dynamic and impactful they were impossible to miss. One was Shane Wright of the Don Mills Flyers, who was a year younger than almost everyone on the ice. He had a goal and two assists in the game and three weeks later became the first overall pick in the OHL draft after gaining exceptional player status. The other was Adam Fantilli of the Toronto Red Wings, who was almost two years younger than almost everyone on the ice. Fantilli had a goal and was every bit as good as Wright. Depending on what he decides, Fantilli will follow in Wright’s path as the OHL’s No. 1 pick in 2020. He is undoubtedly the best prospect in Ontario and is already being talked about as a top pick in the 2023 NHL draft.
Adam Fantilli left his team this week. Instead of playing for the Toronto Jr. Canadiens minor midget team, Fantilli will join his older brother, 16-year-old Luca, at Kimball Union Academy, a prep school in New Hampshire. Even though he doesn’t turn 15 until December, Fantilli is one of those difference-making players who doesn’t seem to have any flaws. He’s already 6-foot-1 and 175 pounds, has eye-popping offensive skills, shoots the puck a ton and plays an impressive physical game. But he’s also a 14-year-old kid who misses his big brother and that’s why he’s going to play for a team that’s an eight-hour drive from his Toronto home.
And that’s the interesting part of this story. Fantilli leaving, along with Mick Thompson, who joined the North Jersey Avalanche Under-16 team, diminishes the Jr. Canadiens and puts them in a serious bind. As GM John Winstanley said, the team is now in “scramble mode” with just eight forwards and not many elite players available because most are committed to other teams. So essentially the Jr. Canadiens will lose the best player in Ontario and replace him with a player who’s still looking for a team.
This is a pretty big deal in minor hockey circles. So in an era when these teams are often run by territorial fiefdoms, it’s refreshing to see that Winstanley cleared a path for Fantilli to leave. He could have made it very difficult, if not impossible, for Fantilli to join his brother by simply not releasing him. “But this wasn’t a hockey decision,” Winstanley said. “It was a family decision. He was a kid who was dealing with missing his best friend. When I played, I had people dictate where I was going to play and I promised I would never do that myself.”
Guiliano Fantilli, Adam’s father, said everything came together when the family decided to visit Luca at Kimball Union Academy last weekend. During the visit, the father said it became evident how close the two brothers are. “I think we underestimated the impact his brother leaving would have on Adam,” Guiliano said. “Everybody thought it would be the parents, but we were actually OK because Luca was so happy in school.”
A spot came open on the Kimball Union team when James Malatesta, who had earlier committed to the school, decided instead to sign with the Quebec Remparts of the QMJHL. There had been speculation last spring that Fantilli would play this season at Shattuck St. Mary’s in Minnesota, but he returned to the Jr. Canadiens after playing up a year with the Toronto Red Wings last season. At Kimball Union, he’ll be coached by former University of Maine head coach Tim Whitehead.
As difficult a decision it was for the Fantillis, it was just as difficult to break the news to Winstanley, who goes back a long way with the family in minor hockey. “We were really nervous, not just about how they would react or if they would put up roadblocks, but just disappointing Johnny and the teammates and parents,” Guiliano Fantilli said. “But when I sat down with him, I was stunned at how awesome he was. He said, ‘I’m never going to stand in a kid’s way,’ and he was all about Adam’s feelings and the family’s feelings.”
After playing this season with his brother, Adam Fantilli will be the top-rated prospect for the 2020 OHL draft. Aside from his skill and size, another thing that makes him appealing to a major junior team is his late birthday, which means the team drafting him will have him for three seasons prior to his NHL draft. “In my mind, it’s not even close,” Winstanley said.
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