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Why everyone —miss prospect

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Emily Kaplan, ESPNMay 7, 2024, 08:06 AM ET

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Emily Kaplan is ESPN’s national NHL reporter.On a Saturday night in January 2023, the Golden State Warriors had an off night in Chicago.

Draymond Green didn’t want to go to dinner or out on the town. He had another idea: going to the suburbs to watch junior hockey.

“​​How often do you get an opportunity to see Sidney Crosby at 17?” Green reasoned.

The next big thing in hockey is Macklin Celebrini, the unanimous No. 1 prospect of the 2024 NHL draft class. Celebrini is also the son of Rick Celebrini, the Warriors vice president of player health and performance.

“I was like, really? You wanna go?” Rick Celebrini said to Green. “I mean, it’s actually not close to where we stay with the team.”

“I don’t care,” Green replied. He wanted to support the Celebrinis.

So a group of Warriors staffers and players arranged a ride to Geneva, Illinois.

“We found out a lot of stuff that night,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “Like Macklin’s nickname was The Cheetah. We didn’t know that until the announcer said something.”

NHL scouts have been dazzled by The Cheetah for years because he is the complete package: elite hockey sense, skill, shot and, yes, his motor. The 5-foot-11 two-way center is also known for his desire to win — and ability to bring his teammates along with him, making everyone great.

But even the best athletes have off nights, and according to Macklin, that was one of them.

“It was not a good game,” Macklin said. “We didn’t play very well.”

Once again, Green didn’t care. He saw enough.

Macklin was just 16, playing against more physically mature 20-year-olds. Everyone on the ice also knew the NHL buzz surrounding him and wanted to make their mark. Opponents kept checking Macklin, again and again.

“One guy comes out of nowhere and just chucks him and Mack stumbles over and he comes right back — chucks the guy, doesn’t fall,” Green recalled. “Mack hits him again to make sure the guy falls. [Macklin] just takes off to the penalty box. That’s going to suit him going forward. There’s always going to be a target on your back. You’re the projected No. 1 pick and I’m not waiting on my bruiser to come lay you out. I’m going to lay you out myself. That said everything I needed to know.”

Macklin Celebrini grew up in Vancouver as the second of four kids. He also played soccer until he was 12, the sport both of his parents played. But hockey always had his heart.

“I started off skating, like any kid would, just skating laps at a public rink,” Macklin said. “Then once I had a stick in my hand, it was game over.” That may be an understatement. At age 10, Macklin competed in the prestigious Brick Invitational Tournament. He had an intense schedule leading up to that tournament, and his team ended up winning.

“It was amazing. But afterward his coach told me, Macklin needs a break after this,” his mom, Robyn, recalled. “Like, hide his skates for two weeks, keep him off the ice.”

Robyn did in fact hide Macklin’s skates.

“That lasted two days,” she said, with a smile. It didn’t help that the local hockey club was within walking distance. Robyn eventually succumbed to Macklin’s pleas.

That Brick Tournament was also the first time the Celebrinis realized Macklin could command a locker room. Rick Celebrini’s favorite story about his son was relayed by one of the team’s assistant coaches.

“The first practice, all the kids were really nervous and quiet in the dressing room, and nobody was talking to each other,” Rick Celebrini said. “And Macklin, I guess he picked this up from hearing some [older players] at his hockey club, but all of the sudden goes in front of everyone and says: ‘Listen up, guys. We only have one rule in this dressing room. There’s no effing swearing in this dressing room.'”

The entire room erupted with laughter. The 10-year-old effectively broke the ice.

The Celebrini kids had exposure to professional athletes from an early age. Rick Celebrini worked for the Vancouver Canucks and MLS Whitecaps before getting the gig with the Warriors. Rick is also a renowned physiotherapist who worked closely with Steve Nash since his rookie season, helping the Hall of Fame point guard overcome a low back condition.

Or, as he’s known in the Celebrini household, Uncle Steve.

“When Macklin was younger, there was sort of almost like an osmosis,” Rick Celebrini said. “He wasn’t really paying attention, but I believe he took a lot of it in, especially the early days when I’d work with Steve Nash and I would spend four or five hours on the court and in the gym.”

As Macklin got older, and Rick took the job with the Warriors in 2018, the lessons became more acute.

“Just being around some professional athletes, you learn how detail-oriented they are,” Macklin said. “How they take care of their bodies, how they approach every day, even in the offseason when it doesn’t really have a translation on the season. Every day they’re still doing something to take care of themselves.”

From an early age, Macklin was determined to reach the highest levels — and began to differentiate himself. “Every step of the way he has set goals that seem almost unreachable,” Rick Celebrini said. “And each step of the way he’s surprised us.”

Macklin enrolled at Shattuck-St. Mary’s in Minnesota in 2020, the same prep school that helped develop one of his idols, Crosby. Macklin’s statistics during that 14AUU season are so absurd, they almost read like a misprint: 51 goals and 141 points in 50 games. After three years there, he was off to the Chicago Steel for junior hockey (46 goals and 86 points in 50 games).

A standout performance at the IIHF World Under-18 Championship in April 2023 firmly cemented his draft stock. Macklin matched Canada’s single-tournament scoring record while making a gorgeous game-winning overtime goal in the bronze medal game. He scored the most points by a Canadian player 16 or younger — edging out Connor Bedard and Connor McDavid.

This past season, as a 17-year-old freshman at Boston University, he won the Hobey Baker Award as best player in the country.

The head of one NHL scouting department told ESPN that Macklin was “as complete a prospect as there is” and said he’s more than ready to make an impact in the NHL next season.

Macklin said he models his game after two-way centers like Jonathan Toews, Brayden Point and Crosby.

“Those guys that do it on both sides of the puck,” he said. “They’re leaders on their teams and they also drive offense.”

He cites Crosby and Patrick Kane as his favorite players to watch growing up.

“The Blackhawks and Penguins both made their runs to the Cups,” he said. “And some of my best memories were just watching them play in the playoffs and battle.” Rick helped Macklin and his siblings — brothers Aiden, 19; RJ, 12; and sister, Charlie, 15 — along each of their athletic journeys, where he balanced the line between trainer and dad.

“When they’re working out, I tell them there has to be a professionalism to your approach and what you do. And that’s when I’m not Dad,” Rick said. “But in their times when they’re vulnerable, then I become Dad, and I’ll always be Dad.”

The family is extremely close, texting and supporting each other constantly. In his interview with ESPN, Macklin wanted to make sure he gave love to his mom, citing her as the one who keeps it all together.

Aiden, a 2023 sixth-round draft pick of the Canucks, was teammates (and roommates) with Macklin at Boston University this season. The 6-foot-1 defenseman is a late bloomer. RJ’s hockey highlights have already gone viral on social media. Meanwhile, Charlie is a fast-rising star on the junior tennis circuit.

“When Rick first got [to Golden State] his kids would be running up and down the court playing pickup 3-on-3, with the whole family, Robyn too,” Kerr said. “It’s so funny seeing them as kids and then all of a sudden, you find out the two older boys are big-time hockey players.

“And then I started to really ask Rick more about his kids and what they were doing. Then there’s little Charlie, the tennis player. And then I realized, Rick’s cooking something up in his house. … He’s just churning out athletes over there.”

There’s a reason the Warriors wanted to support Rick. He’s been crucial to their culture and success.

“He’s one of the best human beings I know, and that’s straight from the heart,” Kerr said. “He’s got this great combination of emotional intelligence and technical knowledge of his field and humor and authority. The players see him every day, and so for us it means so much that he’s one of the first people they see and feel, and he just sets an incredible tone.”

Green called Rick “a giver.”

“He gives his time, he gives his energy, he gives his effort,” Green said. “He’s a magician when it comes to the body. He’s a magician when it comes to the mind. He is our secret weapon and he’s an incredible father. He’s an incredible man.”

Green said he checks in with Rick about Macklin about two to three times per week. Green knows a decent amount about hockey, growing up in Michigan and attending Michigan State. By appearances, Green could tell Macklin had the “it” factor when he first met the pre-teen.

“I’m like, ‘Yep, Mack, you’re definitely a player,'” Green said. “‘You got the hockey hair.'”

While getting to know Macklin over the years, Green was struck by something else. “He’s quiet but super confident, and is not afraid to share that confidence with you,” Green said. “We don’t get the opportunity to see him often, but every chance, he has a smile on his face. He walks in the room like he belongs in the room. Like he’s supposed to be there.

“It’s not something over the top where it’s like, ‘Hey, I need you to realize that I’m here.’ You feel the seriousness when you talk to him. Like, he wants to work, he wants to be great. I have no doubt in my mind that he will be.”

At the Steel game in 2023, the Warriors contingent — minus Rick — left after the second period. After all, it was a long drive back to Chicago. Naturally, Macklin scored after they had departed.

When Rick met Macklin in the locker room afterward, his son gave him a good hockey chirp to pass along to the Warriors.

“Dad,” Macklin said, “I go to your games all the time, and they’re boring as hell, and I don’t leave.”

Rick relayed the story to the Warriors the next day, and the room erupted in laughter.

Source : ESPN

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