Macklin Celebrini selected No. 1 by San Jose at NHL draft where Las Vegas and hockey royalty mix

LAS VEGAS (AP) — Macklin Celebrini headlined the NHL draft by going first overall to the San Jose Sharks on a Friday night hockey and Las Vegas royalty mixed company under the visual spectacle of the Sphere.

French-Canadian chanteuse Celine Dion and longtime boxing announcer Michael Buffer shared the stage with the likes of former Sharks star Joe Thornton and rookie of the year Connor Bedard by announcing the selections to provide the event a true Vegas flair.

When it came to Thornton announcing the selection of Celebrini, Sharks general manager Mike Grier said it was important to connect his franchise's future with its successful past.

“We don't have too many guys left on the team that were there when we were on top of things and challenging for the Stanley Cup,” Grier said.

As for Dion's appearance, Blackhawks general manager Kyle Davidson was so excited he took a picture of the pop icon and sent it to his mother.

And to top it off, the newly established Utah Hockey Club leaned on NHL pedigree in making Kelowna center Tij Iginla the franchise’s first selection with the No. 6 pick. Iginla is the son of Hockey Hall of Famer Jarome Iginla, who spent much of his career in Calgary.

Celebrini becomes a foundational piece for the Sharks and his selection came as no surprise after the 18-year-old became just the fourth freshman to win the Hobey Baker Award as college hockey’s top player. He did so as the nation’s youngest player, too, finishing second with 34 goals and third with 64 points in 38 games.

The 6-foot, 200-pound player from North Vancouver, British Columbia, already has ties to the Bay Area. Celebrini played for the Junior Sharks program after his father, Rick, was hired to be the Golden State Warriors’ sports medicine director.

“Just a surreal feeling,” Celebrini said in becoming the Sharks’ first No. 1 overall pick. “I’ve dreamed about this moment ever since I was a kid, and for it to come true, it’s just an amazing feeling.”

Celebrini was undecided on whether he will return to BU for a second year, but he deepens a talented prospect pool on a Sharks team in the midst of its longest playoff drought, now spanning five years.

Chicago took Michigan State defenseman Artyom Levshunov of Belarus at No. 2., with his name announced by Bedard, the No. 1 pick last year. This marked the third draft to have college players to go 1-2, and first since 2021 when Michigan teammates Owen Power and Matty Beniers were chosen first and second.

Levshunov was the fourth overall player from Belarus selected in the first round of the NHL draft, and earliest selected after defenseman Ruslan Salei went ninth to Anaheim in 1996.

The draft was filled with surprise guests, with Dion taking the podium to announce her hometown Montreal Canadiens selecting Russian forward Ivan Demidov at No. 5. Buffer, who is from Philadelphia, used his “Are you ready to rumble” tag-line in taking the stage to announce the Flyers choosing Ontario Hockey League center Jett Luchanko at No. 13.

And there were several surprise picks, the biggest involving the Anaheim Ducks’ selection of Oshawa forward Beckett Sennecke at No. 3.

Sennecke could be seen mouthing “Oh, my God,” to his father upon hearing former Ducks star Scott Niedermayer announce the pick. Sennecke was ranked 12th among North American players by NHL Central Scouting after finishing with 27 goals and 68 points in 63 games last season in the OHL.

GM Pat Verbeek didn't see the player's reaction, noting the Ducks only interviewed Sennecke once in the pre-draft process despite having their eye on him for much of last year.

“He had no idea," Verbeek said. “It certainly brings back really good memories to see an authentic reaction like that.”

Columbus followed by selecting Medicine Hat center Cayden Lindstrom at No. 4.

Utah, which relocated from Arizona to Salt Lake City, two months ago selected Iginla, ending any chance of Calgary landing the son of their former star at No. 9.

“It’s so unpredictable,” said Jarome Iginla who was selected 11th overall by Dallas in the 1995 draft before being traded months later to Calgary. “Every city’s a great city, but Utah, we’re excited. ... We’re very happy for him. He’s worked hard, and it’s a big day.”

The Iginla’s become the sixth father-son duo taken in the top 15 of the draft.

Canadians dominated the first-round selections, with 19 drafted, tied for the most since a record 21 went in 1987. Only three Americans were drafted, starting with University of Denver defenseman Zeev Buium going 12th to Minnesota. Buium is from San Diego.

The draft featured the added spectacle of being held at the year-old Sphere, a globe-shaped venue over-looking the Las Vegas strip and featuring video screens on the inside and outside of its structure.

The 32 teams were gathered at tables beneath the wrap-around screen covering almost three-quarters of the curved wall broadcasting scenes from the draft to the sold-out crowd of 14,220 in the multi-deck facility. The draft opened with the screen featuring pictures of more than 100 of the eligible prospects.

A small stage was erected in the middle of the floor, where NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman was joined by teams to announce the selections.

There remained familiar draft moments, beyond the glitz, glamor and 100-degree temperature outside.

Bettman was booed upon taking the podium. Vegas fans also booed when Pacific Division rivals took the stage, and cheered when it was the Golden Knights’ turn to select center Trevor Connelly at No. 19.

Connelly, ranked sixth by Central Scouting among North American prospects, had his stock fall due to questions involving his past. Two years ago, he poste a picture on social media of a friend posing in front of a collection of building blocks formed in the shape of a swastika. Connelly apologized and done his best through volunteer work and diversity training.

With trade-talk buzz circulating around the likes of Toronto’s Mitch Marner, Columbus’ Patrik Laine and Carolina’s Martin Necas, the only deals completed on the floor involved draft selections.