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Adam Fantilli's hot start and game against BU 10/16

Updated: Dec 7, 2022

There is a lot of buzz around Adam Fantilli right now, and rightfully so. Coming into this season he was a consensus top three pick, with some debate as to whether or not he was ahead of Matvei Michkov. Now that we’ve seen a decent number of games this season, it's safe to say that Fantilli has solidified his claim to the 2nd spot, although Michkov is having a very good year in his own right. Some might even go as far as to say Fantilli could challenge Bedard for a coveted 1st overall pick in a draft with a very stacked top 10. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that (yet) but I have to admit that what Fantilli is doing so far this season is very, very special. At the time this is being published, Fantilli has played 8 games for Michigan in the NCAA. In those games, he has eight goals and ten assists for eighteen points, 2.25 points per game. For some perspective, Jack Eichel, perhaps the best player drafted out of the NCAA in recent years, scored 26 goals and 45 assists for 71 points in 40 games, 1.78 points per game. Matty Beniers, a player many thought should have gone 1st overall in 2021, scored at exactly one point per game with ten goals and 14 assists in 24 games.

How sustainable is this pace though? Well, he is averaging over 5 shots a game and shooting just under 20%. While his shot isn’t the best aspect of his game, I wouldn’t be terribly surprised if he maintained a shooting percentage close to that. I actually think his shot is a bit underrated at this point, and he can be pretty creative, like this play where he turns an almost nothing situation into a pretty dangerous shot by using the defender as a screen and going between his legs.

Considering he’s playing on a very good Michigan team, I wouldn’t be surprised if he maintained his points production altogether. Across three games that I’ve tracked data on him so far, Michigan has attempted 49 shots at five on five. (That may seem kind of low, but one of these games had around 18 penalties in it) Of those 49 shot attempts, Fantilli personally contributed to a whooping 21 of them. Fifteen he took himself, and on six he earned shot assists. That’s damn near 43% of all the team’s shot attempts at five on five coming from Fantilli. Do I expect that number to come down as I track more games? Probably. However, given how often he likes to shoot the puck, combined with his very nice playmaking ability, it is not necessarily impossible for him to continue to be this heavily involved. Especially considering in the three games, he hasn’t shown that much of his playmaking abilities at 5 on 5 that I know are there. Granted the more plays he tries to make, the less he will be shooting the puck so perhaps that would even itself out in the wash anyway.

In his game on 10/22 against LSSU, Fantilli only contributed to three shot attempts at 5 on 5. (This was the special teams game) In that game he still recorded a goal and three assists, (below is a goal from that game that came 5 on 5) showing that not only is Fantilli capable of capitalizing on chances when they are hard to come by, but he is also a big threat on the power play, but that is to be expected of a player of this caliber. (Check out that release too)

That being said, let’s get into his game on 10/16 against Boston University. This was actually the only loss Michigan has been dealt this season, as they couldn’t find a way to put up more than two goals, but that had very little to do with Fantilli. In fact, while the game overall was played fairly evenly, albeit with a heavy push by Michigan in the 3rd, Fantilli’s line was absolutely fantastic. While they were on the ice at 5 on 5, the shot attempts were twenty to 7 in favor of Michigan, although this was skewed by some very heavy pressure in the last ten minutes or so of the game when Fantilli was on the ice for just about every other shift. Of the twenty shot attempts, Fantilli factored in on seven of them. Six were his own shot attempts, of which he managed to get five on goal. I counted the play below as a shot assist but in hindsight it looks like it might have been broken up. Hard to tell, but either way, I like the patients and vision here. The execution on the pass is quite good as well.

Of Michigan’s twenty shot attempts, eight were from medium or high danger areas, of those, Fantilli was involved in five. The aforementioned shot assist, and four of his own shot attempts. Needless to say, Fantilli was not a passenger in this game. In fact, in my admittedly smallish data set, this was by far the most impressive offensive play driving I’ve seen. (I haven’t done any Bedard games yet for transparency)

His playmaking at 5 on 5 in this game left a lot to be desired but its hard to shoot and pass at the same time. While some players who shoot as often as Fantilli did in this game can get into trouble with shot selection, that wasn’t the case here so this shouldn’t necessarily be seen as a negative. I have seen enough from other games to know what he is capable of as a playmaker at even strength, but I think this is an area of the game where he really shines on the powerplay. He made some very nice passes on the powerplay in this game that would probably impress even Zach Benson. Here’s one where he earned the secondary assist on a PPG.

Here’s another great pass on the power play

Hockey isn’t just about passing and shooting though and that’s where we get to my first and most significant criticism of Fantilli's game. He’s kind of average in transition. Not exactly a scathing report, but given his size, speed, stickhandling, and general skating ability, he should be a lot more involved in transition than he was in this game. While he was on the ice, Michigan attempted 16 controlled offensive zone entries. Fantilli was involved in just four of them, completing three for a 75% efficiency. That level of efficiency is fine, but a 25% involvement rate is shockingly pedestrian for a player of Fantilli’s caliber. Controlled D-zone breakouts tell the same story. Michigan attempted seventeen with him on the ice, and again, Fantilli was involved in just four of them, and that is being generous. There was one transition made where I couldn’t tell who made the pass due to a very zoomed in camera angle, but I’m reasonably certain it was Fantilli. It could have been a defensemen. He did complete all four breakout attempts, but this time with just a 24% involvement rate. At least we got a SpongeBob joke out of it.

This is a very noticeable trend in Fantilli’s game. Over the three game sample, his transition involvement rate remains virtually unchanged for both O-zone entries and D-zone breakouts, each hovering within a point or two of 25%. In one game, he attempted just a single controlled O-zone entry at 5 on 5. Granted 5 on 5 time was limited in that game, but that is still concerning to me. I wonder a little about how the coaching staff is encouraging him to play in transition, but I find it hard to question the decisions of a coaching staff of such a highly successful team as Michigan.

I do have one other minor complaint with Fantilli’s game and that is simply that he takes too many penalties. I suspect he will simply be that kind of player in the NHL. Maybe a Matthew Tkachuk type but he doesn’t quite take that many penalties. Just a little pesty at times and not afraid to assert himself physically. When you are a player of Fantilli's caliber, you're hurting your team even more by going to the box, as you aren't available to create offense.

Can Fantilli keep up his historic start to the season? I think so, but only time will tell. Either way, I expect big things from him this season. More on Fantilli coming shortly.

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