Will Smith worlds

PRAGUE -- Will Smith has seen plenty of Macklin Celebrini over the past season, so he's qualified to speak on what his San Jose Sharks could be getting with the projected No. 1 pick in the 2024 Upper Deck NHL Draft on June 28.

Smith, selected by the Sharks with the No. 4 pick in the 2023 NHL Draft, plays for Boston College in Hockey East.

Celebrini, at 17 the youngest player in NCAA Division I men's hockey this season and the youngest ever to win the Hobey Baker Award, presented annually to recognize the top NCAA men's hockey player, played for Boston University. 

The pair could flip from rivals to teammates after San Jose won the NHL Draft Lottery on May 8, and will have the No. 1 pick in the 2024 draft.

"We've had some matchups this year," the Sharks forward prospect said at the 2024 IIHF World Championship, where he represented the United States. "I think four times. We've definitely seen each other. There's a reason he's going to go No. 1. He's a pretty special player. Obviously, we had some pretty good matchups this year.

"Whenever you're on the ice with another player like that you have to keep your eye on him. We were on the ice quite a few times, some shifts together. Definitely we were keeping our eye on each other."

The Sharks, who entered the lottery with an 18.5 percent chance of winning, will select No. 1 for the first time. They've selected second on three occasions, picking Pat Falloon in 1991, Andrei Zyuzin in 1996 and Patrick Marleau in 1997.

Celebrini, a forward, is No. 1 on NHL Central Scouting's final ranking of North American skaters for the 2024 draft, to be held at Sphere in Las Vegas on June 28-29. The first round will be June 28 (7 p.m. ET; ESPN, ESPN+, SN, TVAS) with rounds 2-7 on June 29 (11:30 ET; ESPN+, NHLN, SN, SN1).

Macklin Celebrini joins NHL Now before draft lottery

Smith, who said it is "still up in the air" whether he returns to Boston College or joins the Sharks next season, is excited to have a No. 1 pick join the stable of San Jose prospects that also includes forward Quentin Musty, the No. 26 pick in 2023, forward Filip Bystedt, the No. 27 pick in 2022, and 21-year-old forward William Eklund, who had 45 points (16 goals, 29 assists) in 80 games for the Sharks this season.

"It's cool," Smith said. "Obviously the future there is going to be pretty exciting and fun. Having the first overall pick is pretty cool. Get to go on there and have a bunch of young guys, which will be fun. I can't wait to get there.

"It's exciting seeing that lottery. San Jose hasn't been a playoff team for a while now.

"We'll try to bring that back."

San Jose (19-54-9) finished 32nd in the NHL and has failed to qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs the past five seasons.

"I think it's been a few tough years," said Sharks forward Luke Kunin, who also played for the United States at the World Championship. "We're excited, obviously, to get a very talented player that can come in and help us right away. As a player you try not to think about that too much. You just go out and try to win and perform every night. I know it's been some tough times. Hopefully the future is looking a little brighter."

Kunin isn't alone in his excitement about San Jose potentially adding an impact player like Celebrini, who finished second in NCAA scoring with 32 goals and third with 64 points in 38 games.

"You need players like that to eventually go win Stanley Cups down the road," said Sharks forward Nico Sturm, who played for Germany at the World Championship. "I know it's a long, long way to get there, but he's going to be the player we build around. Long after I'm gone. It's exciting. The fans stuck with us through two extremely hard years, and they've got something to be excited about and cheer for, and they'll come to games to watch the kid play.

"And as players, we need guys like that in a tie game, on the power play, that makes a little magic happen. Not to put too much pressure on him, but I've heard nothing but good things about him, not just offensively, but actually about his two-way game.

"Really excited to have him."

In addition to the Hobey Baker, Celebrini was also named Hockey East Player of the Year and Rookie of the Year, joining Jack Eichel (2015), Paul Kariya (1993) and Brian Leetch (1987) as the only players to win both awards in the same season.

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