NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Anaheim Ducks made it known they were going to take a center with the second pick of Thursday night's NHL draft, but they kept whom they were going to select a secret.
Many considered University of Michigan freshman Adam Fantilli the favorite, but the Ducks instead opted to take Orebro HK center Leo Carlsson, presenting the first bit of intrigue on draft night after the Chicago Blackhawks used the No. 1 overall pick on Regina Pats center Connor Bedard.
"I had a meeting with the Ducks yesterday," Carlsson told reporters after he was drafted. "I had a good feeling."
Fantilli didn't have to wait long to hear his name, with the Columbus Blue Jackets drafting him with the third pick. He said he had no idea whom the Ducks were going to draft until he heard Carlsson's name called.
"There are a lot of phenomenal hockey players in this draft and a lot of guys deserve to go as high as they possibly can," Fantilli said about not going second to the Ducks. "Leo's a phenomenal hockey player. He's a great kid, and I wish him the absolute best. Getting to know him was awesome, in Vegas [at the Stanley Cup Final] and at the combine. It was really, really cool to meet him. So, I wish him the best and I'm pumped for him."
Whomever the Ducks took second was going to join a rebuilding team for which promise has been a selling point. Leading that rebuild are players such as Jamie Drysdale, Mason McTavish, Troy Terry and Trevor Zegras. The Ducks' farm system is also believed to be one of the strongest in the NHL.
Carlsson expressed excitement over the prospect of playing alongside McTavish and Zegras.
"It's going to be real," he said. "Two skillful players for sure. I think it's going to be easy for me to play with them for sure."
Ducks general manager Pat Verbeek spoke with reporters about how the team arrived at the decision to take Carlsson. Verbeek said the Ducks liked Carlsson's creativity, intelligence and ability to make others around him better.
Verbeek added that the Ducks staff did have lengthy discussions about what to do with the pick. He said it eventually became "unanimous with our staff" that the Ducks were going to take Carlsson, something they had known for quite a while.
"I think what probably could have put him over the top was watching him at the world championships and watching him play center for the men's team in a No. 1 center position," Verbeek said of Carlsson, who had three goals and five points over eight games for Sweden. "I was really taken aback by his two-way game. I think looking at it we were excited for the potential for him to not only be a dominant player in the offensive zone but also in the defensive zone as well."
Because the Ducks have seen Carlsson, 18, play against older competition, what does that mean in terms of how soon they would want to bring him to North America?
"We're going to sit down and he's going to go to development camp and we're going to talk to him," Verbeek said. "At the end of the day, the player has to feel comfortable coming to this league. It's a big step. I'm confident he would be able to play, but the player has to feel comfortable with himself too."
Fantilli became the latest college hockey forward to become a top-three pick with a decision to make about his immediate future. Last year, the Arizona Coyotes drafted Logan Cooley with the third pick after Cooley scored 28 goals and 60 points as a freshman at the University of Minnesota. Cooley ultimately opted to return to the Golden Gophers for his sophomore season.
Seattle Kraken center Matty Beniers, who was the No. 2 pick of the 2021 draft, spent two seasons at Michigan before leaving school. Beniers' first full season saw him become an instant contributor with the upstart Kraken, who went from lottery team to playoff team in just their second year of existence. Ultimately, Beniers won the Calder Trophy as the NHL's top rookie.
Asked about his future, Fantilli said he is unsure how he will decide.
"I don't know yet," Fantilli said. "I have to talk to the team and talk to the people around me, and we'll see what decision will come out on either side."
Carlsson and Fantilli offered potential suitors a center down the middle with size, with Carlsson listed at 6-foot-3 and Fantilli at 6-2. Carlsson spent last season in Europe playing against professionals in the SHL, the highest division of Swedish hockey. He scored 10 goals and 25 assists in 44 regular-season games before scoring nine points in 13 playoff games.
Fantilli needed only one season to establish himself as one of the most dominant collegiate players in the nation, leading the nation in goals (30), assists (35) and points (65). Fantilli won the Hobey Baker Award, given to the nation's top men's college player.