Macklin Celebrini arrived as a bit of an unknown.
Sure, his fellow invitees at Canada’s selection camp for the 2024 world junior hockey championship had seen the highlights and heard the chatter.
“I know he’s good,” centre Owen Beck said with a grin after the team’s first on-ice session. “I don’t know a ton.”
“First time I’ve skated with him,” added defenceman Denton Mateychuk.
The group is getting an introduction to the 17-year-old centre expected to go high — potentially No. 1 — at June’s NHL draft in Las Vegas.
If there were any doubts, they quickly melted away.
“He doesn’t play his age,” said goaltender Mathias Rousseau. “Plays a more mature game. More mature even with his size. He’s a great player.”
Celebrini has been ripping up the NCAA in his first season at Boston University with 10 goals and 25 points in 15 games against opponents sometimes seven or eight years his senior.
The Vancouver native was also named the USHL’s player of the year at age 16 in 2022-23 after putting up 46 goals and 86 points in 50 games with the Chicago Steel.
Still, most of the 29 other hopefuls looking to make Canada’s roster for the world juniors in Gothenburg, Sweden, had never shared the ice with the six-foot, 190-pound Celebrini until walking into Oakville’s Sixteen Mile Sports Complex.
“We’ve been talking a little bit, having a couple of laughs,” said forward Conor Geekie. “You can tell he’s a pro already. That’s what makes him so special, it’s just how he carries himself.
“He’s only 17 years old. Excited to see where it goes.”
For his part, Celebrini is just trying to fit in ahead of the under-20 showcase that gets going Dec. 26 after missing out on the summer under-18 Hlinka Gretzky Cup with a shoulder injury.
“We have a great group,” he said. “It’s just selection camp, but hopefully we get going and we build some chemistry. I’m just excited.”
Canada head coach Alan Letang, like most of his players, only knew Celebrini largely from video and scouting before the group assembled west of Toronto.
“Even in the lineup of drills, he’s always touching the puck and he’s always stickhandling,” Letang said. “He’s just very focused on the things he needs to do to continue to be successful.”
The son of Golden State Warriors director of sports medicine and performance Rick Celebrini focused on rehabbing his injury this summer while also preparing his body for the rigours of U.S. college hockey.
“I had a lot of people around me,” he said. “I knew it wasn’t going to be easy making that transition — a lot of older, heavier guys.”
One player at Canada’s camp familiar with the younger Celebrini is Fraser Minten. The pair grew up in the same B.C. hockey circles that included Connor Bedard.
“He played against my brother growing up,” said Minten, who suited up four times with the Toronto Maple Leafs this season before being returned to junior. “He would just terrorize everyone.”
There was even some talk around Canada’s camp, which will be cut down to a final 23-man roster Wednesday, that Celebrini has some of the attributes that allowed Bedard to dominate last year’s tournament, including superior edge work and an elite shot.
“Similar style,” Rousseau said. “He can play.”
Celebrini knows there are plenty of eyes on him — both at camp, potentially the world juniors, and as the season churns towards the Sin City draft.
Despite that attention, he’s squarely focused on the next drill, the next shift, the next game.
“There’s a lot to worry about right now,” Celebrini said. “Just trying to be the best I can be here.”
Rousseau is in a battle with Domenic DiVincentiis, Scott Ratzlaff and Samuel St-Hilaire for the three goaltending spots.
“Healthy competition,” he said. “Everybody knows what the others can do. Everybody wants to prove that he’s the best. It makes everybody push harder.”
The 19-year-old undrafted goaltender for the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League’s Halifax Mooseheads said Thomas Milic’s performance backstopping Canada to a second straight gold at the 2023 tournament in Halifax as an undersized netminder provides inspiration.
“Kind of the same story as me,” said the five-foot-11, 172-pound Rousseau.