2024 NHL Draft

2024 NHL Draft: Macklin Celebrini Is Closer To Connor Bedard Than You Think

2024 NHL Draft: Macklin Celebrini Is Closer To Connor Bedard Than You Think

As Macklin Celebrini enters his first NCAA Tournament, the historic nature of his freshman season at Boston University is coming into focus.

Mar 28, 2024 by Chris Peters

The debate about who will go first overall in the 2024 NHL Draft is long over. Macklin Celebrini has been No. 1 all year and no one has ever seriously challenged him for that designation. It’s not hard to see why.

At 17 years old, someone who won’t turn 18 until the summer, Celebrini has played well ahead of his age peers. In fact, he’s played better than most of the players several years his senior, too.

Celebrini has a chance to win the Hobey Baker this year, though the competition has been remarkably stiff for that prestigious award this season. Even if Celebrini does not take home college hockey’s top individual prize, little would diminish the truly remarkable – and in many cases historic – freshman season.

As the Vancouver native gets set for his first ever NCAA tournament game Thursday against RIT, and since FloHockey was among the first outlets to introduce Celebrini to the hockey world at large, we wanted to detail just how remarkable his 2023-24 campaign has been.

While Celebrini is not getting the same treatment as Connor Bedard did last season, there’s a legitimate chance he’s going to put forward a similar level of impact as an NHL player. Here’s why.

Macklin Celebrini’s NCAA Season Has Been Historically Special

It has often been noted that Celebrini is just 17 years old. By age, he should still be a senior in high school. It has become much more common in recent years for top-end players to accelerate their schooling to enroll early if they’re ready.

Over the history of the NCAA according to EliteProspects.com data, 174 skaters appeared in NCAA games as under-18 players. Among those players, Celebrini’s 59 points make him the third-most productive player of his age in college hockey history. 

Only Craig Simpson (Michigan State 1984-85) and Chris Valentine (St. Louis University 1978-79) had more points as U18 players in college hockey. Simpson is the record holder with 84 points in 42 games. Both players played in eras where scoring was exceptionally high. For reference, only one player who played in the 2000s is among the top 100 scorers in NCAA history – Colorado College’s Peter Sejna who had 82 points in 2002-03 to rank 95th among all-time seasons.

Since 2000-01, only 19 skaters played their U18 seasons in the NCAA. That includes Jonathan Toews, who played at 17 years old for North Dakota in 2005-06.

Among those players, Celebrini has 20 more points than his next closest age peer – Toews, who had 39 points. UConn’s Matthew Wood is the only other U18 player in the last 24 years that average 0.9 points per game or more when he had 34 points in 42 games.

In the modern NCAA, Celebrini is without peer. Recent freshmen to win the Hobey Baker – Jack Eichel and Adam Fantilli – were late birthdates and among the oldest players in their draft years. Celebrini is among the youngest with a June birth date. 

Despite being the youngest player in college hockey, Celebrini is currently tied for second in the NCAA with 59 points. He is also second in goals scored with 31 – which is tied with Simpson for the most goals scored by a U18 player in a single NCAA season. 

Celebrini is also the first BU player of any age to surpass the 30-goal plateau since Chris Drury in 1996-97.

He also became only the fourth player in Hockey East history to win both the Rookie of the Year and Player of the Year in the same season. The others are Hockey Hall of Famers Paul Kariya and Brian Leetch, and Jack Eichel.

While the goals scored and the point totals are incredible and largely unprecedented in the modern collegiate game, it’s only a part of what makes Celebrini special.

What Makes Macklin Celebrini An Elite Prospect

The offense and skill are major standout traits with Celebrini, but you can’t talk about those elements of his game without noting his commitment to playing away from the puck, defending and playing with relentless competitiveness.

Those are the traits that take him from being a high-end prospect to be truly elite and the kind of player that can be the centerpiece of an NHL franchise.

Celebrini has tacked on considerable strength this season. He is physically bigger than he was at this last time last season. Considering we learned he played through most of his USHL campaign with a shoulder injury that was surgically repaired in the offseason, it was always going to be harder for him to tack on weight and muscle mass over the course of his U17 campaign.

Now that he is bigger, stronger and healthy, Celebrini has grown the physical elements of his game, becoming more engaged with his body positioning and delivering body checks with purpose. He’s been listed at 6-feet, 190 this season and uses all he has to make himself a problem for other teams.

And teams have tried mightily to knock the youngster off his game. Early in the season, coach Jay Pandolfo took to the media expressing his distaste for the number of times he felt Celebrini was being targeted with high hits.

What always struck me about the way other teams have gone after Celebrini is how much he can give it right back and how little it impacts his game. There may be frustration and some extra things after a whistle, but beyond that, there’s no wavering in the way Celebrini plays. 

Keep in mind, too, that the vast majority of teams Celebrini was playing against had an average age of 22 or greater. Many of the players taking runs at him were grown men with some players spending an additional Covid year in college making rosters even older than normal.

To drill down his offensive game a bit more, he plays with tremendous pace and processes the game at high speeds. He's able to get to the interior with good hand skills and skating ability to always put himself in more dangerous scoring areas. He has a lethal one-timer that has made him among the most dangerous power-play scorers in the NCAA. And while he can score from distance, he's not afraid to get to the net-front and pop in goals from in tight. His hockey sense and vision are on display every single game he plays, too.

Celebrini's play away from the puck stacked on top of elite-level offensive capabilities make him basically the total package teams look for in a No. 1 center.

How Macklin Celebrini Compares To Connor Bedard

On this week’s episode of Talking Hockey Sense (in the clip above), I decided to talk a little bit about Celebrini and how to contextualize him. In what may be a somewhat controversial statement, but one I believe strongly based on my experience in tracking players for the draft going back nearly 15 years, I feel that Celebrini is much closer to Connor Bedard than many would care to admit.

They’re different players and will impact the game in different ways. Bedard might end up with more Art Ross and Hart Trophies in his cabinet and may ultimately go down as the much more productive player.

I do feel, however, that Celebrini is the more complete player – and I don’t think Bedard’s defensive game is as poor as some are making it out to be as an NHL rookie. Celebrini’s defensive sense is at a higher level and his compete level works in his favor more on the defensive side of the puck than Bedard’s does currently.

While Celebrini does not shoot it like Bedard, his ability to shoot off the pass and get to the hard areas of the ice for the dirtier goals have allowed Celebrini to score at a rate comparable to Bedard when adjusting for the competitive differences between leagues.

In Byron Bader’s hockey prospect probability model at HockeyProspecting.com, Celebrini barely trails Bedard’s draft season in terms of NHL equivalency. Bedard was at an NHLe of 62, while Celebrini has an NHLe of 60. 

Bedard had more hype and certainly had better performances in the World Juniors, but Celebrini’s World Under-18 at 16 actually paced better than Bedard’s as Celebrini posted a Canadian record 15 points in seven games. 

Comparing two players who play differing styles can be foolhardy at times. I think back to the years where people debated who was better for the Chicago Blackhawks, Patrick Kane or Jonathan Toews. Depending on the year it could be a different answer, though Kane’s prime lasted much longer than Toews’s.

I do think we’re going to be looking at both Celebrini and Bedard in very similar terms over the next few years. It seems impossible given the hype Bedard generated last year and how the same has not been true for Celebrini – not to the same extent at least.

All of the evidence, however, suggests that Celebrini is about to become one of the best NHL Draft prospects of recent memory – joining Bedard and others like Jack Hughes, Auston Matthews as part of that next tier after Connor McDavid.

Whoever drafts this young man is getting a player that has the potential to alter their franchise forever.

Macklin Celebrini's Most Notable Accomplishments So Far


  • Most points by a U17 player in USHL History (86)
  • USHL Scoring Champion
  • USHL Top Goal Scorer (46)
  • USHL Player of the Year
  • USHL Rookie of the Year
  • USHL Forward of the Year
  • USHL All-Rookie Team
  • USHL First All-Star Team

Team Canada

  • 2023 IIHF World Under-18 Championship
    • Bronze Medal
    • Tied Canada's single-tournament points record (15)
    • Tied for fourth most points by a U17 player of any nation (most for Canada)
    • Named one of Canada's best three players
  • 2024 IIHF World Junior Championship
    • Canada's leading scorer (8 points in 5 GP)
    • Named one of Canada's best three players

NCAA (season still in progress)

  • Tied for second in NCAA scoring (59 points)
  • Most points by a U18 player in NCAA since 1984-85 (second all-time)
  • Boston University's Top Scorer
  • First BU forward to score 30+ goals in a season since 1996-97
  • Hockey East scoring champion (44 points)
  • Hockey East Player of the Year
  • Hockey East Rookie of the Year
  • All-Hockey East First Team
  • Hobey Baker Top 10 Finalist

Macklin Celebrini Coverage On FloHockey

FloHockey has been covering Macklin Celebrini since his rookie season with the Chicago Steel in the USHL. Here are some of the highlights from the last two years.

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