July 19, 2024

Macklin Celebrini’s family helps him become the top NHL draft prospect


NORTH VANCOUVER, B.C. — At the foothills of the North Shore mountains is an unassuming mid-century modern home that blends in with the other houses in the neighborhood.

Inside this house is a large, round walnut dining table. There are six chairs around this table, one seat for each member of the Celebrini family, even when they are not all under the same roof.

Macklin Celebrini sits off in the distance while he listens to his mother, Robyn, along with his two brothers, Aiden and R.J., share stories.

So much has been said about why the San Jose Sharks are going to take the Boston University center with the No. 1 pick of the NHL draft. But as for the path Macklin took? Few know the story in the way that only his family can tell. What becomes evident is that family is the No. 1 priority for the NHL’s next No. 1 pick.

“Our parents have done such a good job of teaching us how to act the right way, how to carry ourselves the right way,” Macklin said. “That’s something me and my siblings have all learned. You’re never bigger than anyone because of success or anything. It all comes from how good of a person you are and that’s something they’ve preached to us. Just be a good person first.”

A good person is a father who takes a job with the Golden State Warriors to give his family an even better life. A good person is a mother who drives her children five hours round trip so her three sons can train at a rink while she hits tennis balls for three hours with her daughter. A good person is a 19-year-old older brother who was already drafted by an NHL team but has the humility to admit that his younger brother is the better player. A good person is the 11-year-old youngest child who proudly states he wants to be like his two older brothers because they are his role models.

“I definitely think I want to do what they’re doing,” R.J. said of his brothers. “They’re having lots of success and I want to follow their footsteps.”

The love that comes from having all of those good people in his life has remained the constant for an 18-year-old who has spent the last few years building the expectation he could be the NHL’s next superstar.

Having that love is what allowed Aiden and Macklin to go to Shattuck-St. Mary’s School, nearly 2,000 miles away from home in Faribault, Minnesota. That same love allowed them to handle what it meant to be apart when they played junior hockey in different leagues before reuniting at BU.

That strong support system played an instrumental role in Macklin being able to do things that haven’t been seen in many years. The 32 goals and 64 points he scored in 38 games led to winning the Hobey Baker Award as the nation’s top men’s collegiate player and were the second-most points in a single season by a 17-year-old.

These are among the numerous reasons why Macklin is expected to go first to the Sharks in the 2024 NHL draft (Friday, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN).

Even if it’s a foregone conclusion that he’s going to go first to the Sharks in what’s been referred to colloquially as the “Celebrini Draft,” Macklin won’t make any assumptions with what he describes as “the uncertainty of the draft.”

“Well, I’m not going to get ahead of myself for sure,” Macklin smiled. “I can’t really speak on something that hasn’t happened yet.”


The way Robyn explains it, Rick’s job was to pick their children’s names — with the understanding she had veto power.

There was a long list of names they considered, but none of them seemed to fit. Rick continued to look for options when he came across Macklin. They liked how it sounded along with the fact it could be shortened to “Mack” or “Mackie” by his friends. And as Robyn joked, she calls him by his full name, Macklin, whenever he’s in trouble.

Rick and Robyn were soccer players who wanted to raise “healthy and happy” children regardless of what sports they played. That gave Macklin — whom Robyn described as “curious and rambunctious and mischievous” — an outlet.

Macklin and his siblings did everything between gymnastics, swimming, soccer, tennis and hockey.

“We certainly didn’t imagine this with what’s happening right now,” Robyn said. “Nor did we ever limit their goals and their dreams. We knew it was possible but we would never tell our kids, ‘No, that’s never going to happen.’ But at the same time, we never set out for this to happen.”

Robyn had an inkling that Macklin was good at hockey. Aiden said his feelings about his brother were confirmed when he played at The Brick Hockey Invitational Tournament. First played in 1990, The Brick is an annual youth tournament that sees teams from across the continent compete against one another.

And yes, there are highlights of a 10-year-old Celebrini at The Brick. He was a defenseman at the time, but still found ways to score goals. Like when he got the puck at center ice, beat his defender and scored on a wrist shot. There was another where he exited the defensive zone, sped through the neutral zone and passed the puck once he was in the offensive zone, only to be in position to score a goal seconds later.

What he did at The Brick had Aiden thinking about Macklin’s path.

“He obviously liked scoring goals more,” Aiden said, smiling. “He wasn’t the top scorer but there was a level of exceptional about him that I just knew. I saw him compared to the other kids and I’m biased, but I had faith he’d come out on top. There was a compete [level] in him at such a young age and that’s what really separated him. He was a winner. That’s his biggest quality now. He’ll do whatever it takes to win.”

Underneath Macklin’s approachably friendly demeanor lies a drive to win at all costs. There are stories about how Macklin gets angry when he loses at anything.

Board games, chess, pickleball — it doesn’t matter.

“We’ve had our fair share of fistfights over you name it,” Aiden said with his mother cackling in the background. “Whether it’s pickup basketball, soccer, mini-sticks, chess. There’s always — something’s about to blow. It’s gotten more civil nowadays. Maybe it’s because we’ve both matured a little bit. But there’s no escaping the competitiveness in this family in general.

“When I say everyone in this family hates to lose, I mean hates. There have been chess matches where the competitors didn’t talk to each other for a while. I can’t really name two people because we’re all guilty of it.”

R.J., however, provided more insight into how things really work. He said Aiden is the best chess player in the family and that he usually wins.

It’s what made R.J.’s first victory over his brother one he’ll always remember.

“That was the best day of my life!” R.J. said.


Both Rick and Robyn grew up in Vancouver, and that’s where they met. All their family and friends are there. They weren’t actively looking to leave. But when Rick was offered the opportunity to be the Warriors’ director of sports medicine and performance, it was clear that taking the job would be the best thing for their family.

Moving away meant making adjustments, particularly when it came to hockey. Vancouver has an affinity for the sport at practically every level. Its youth have gone on to play in the NHL and the PWHL. The city’s love-hate relationship with the Canucks (that’s currently love) is a year-round obsession. This is all to say that there’s seemingly endless opportunities for youth hockey players.

The Bay Area does have hockey infrastructure. The Sharks have been around since 1991 and have built a passionate following. But it’s not the same as living in a hockey-crazed locale such as Vancouver, where the game is much more accessible.

“Our kids went to regular school when we lived [in Vancouver] and when we moved, we realized getting on the ice or getting extra ice time down there was very difficult,” Robyn said. “So, they did online school. We just decided to keep them home and do online school and access more of the on-ice opportunities and development opportunities during the day when all the other kids were at school, because that was the only way we were going to be able to try to maintain the hours they did. It was a big sacrifice.”

The Celebrinis moved to the Bay Area in August 2019. Macklin was thriving while playing Triple-A hockey for the San Jose Jr. Sharks U14 team, scoring 49 goals and 94 points in 54 games.

In March 2020, that situation was upended by the pandemic.

With most facilities shuttered, the Celebrinis were looking for a rink where Aiden, Macklin and R.J. could continue their on-ice training while living in San Jose. They eventually found a small rink that was open just outside of Sacramento.

Five days a week for several weeks, Robyn and her children piled into their car at 6 a.m. and made what was a five-hour round-trip trek. Aiden, Macklin, R.J. along with their sister, Charlie, would do their schoolwork on those car rides before arriving at their destination.

That’s when Aiden, Macklin and R.J. all did what Robyn described as “self-directed skating and skill development” during what amounted to be 90-minute individual sessions. After Robyn dropped off her sons at the rink, she and her daughter, Charlie, would find a tennis court where they would practice and hit balls for at least three hours before returning to the rink to pick up the boys and head back to San Jose.

Making those trips allowed Macklin to continue his development. It led to both him and Aiden spending two seasons playing at Shattuck-St. Mary’s, the same program that developed future NHL stars such as Sidney Crosby, Jonathan Toews, Zach Parise and Nathan MacKinnon. Macklin scored 51 goals and 141 points in his first season for the 14U team, and he scored 50 goals and 117 points in 52 games the next season playing for the 18U team.

“Like everyone, you’re trying to find ice and where to train, because you didn’t want to lose any ground. But looking back, it is crazy,” Macklin said. “It’s the thing that we did. That’s one of the sacrifices my parents made for us. That’s seven hours of their day that they’re spending kind of catering to us and making sure we have everything we need. Looking back, it was crazy that we did that but at the time, it was our only choice.”


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3:19

Top NHL prospect Macklin Celebrini’s connection to the Golden State Warriors

Emily Kaplan profiles NHL prospect Macklin Celebrini and his relationship with the Golden State Warriors.

Most Canadian kids with NHL aspirations traditionally use the Major Junior route as the primary development path to reach the game’s highest level. Major Junior leagues such as the Ontario Hockey League, the Quebec Maritimes Junior Hockey League and the Western Hockey League have produced superstars such as Crosby, MacKinnon and Connor McDavid.

Moving to the United States means the Celebrinis were presented with another option beyond the WHL. College hockey has fostered the growth of elite Canadian players such as Toews but a recent surge has seen NCAA programs gain greater visibility for their roles in developing Cale Makar, Owen Power and Adam Fantilli.

The Celebrini’s chose the college route. That meant Aiden played juniors for the Brooks Bandits in the Alberta Junior Hockey League while Macklin played for the Chicago Steel in the USHL.

Aiden said that year apart was hard because their family is so close. But that time allowed him to find out more about himself as a person, which was also the case with Macklin.

Aiden and Macklin could have gone to different universities. But what made BU work is that they felt the Terriers had the coaching staff and facilities that could help them develop. There was also the chance that they could play together for at least one season, with the reality that they might never get another opportunity to be teammates.

“From each of us starting our individual process … we’ve experienced being in charge of our own journey but also being part of the other’s,” Aiden said. “Having that year where we played junior hockey apart, being able to go to school together was such an amazing thing for both of us. But at the same time, we wanted to make it for the right reasons. Neither of us wanted to make that decision for the other one, but wanted to find a place that was right for us.”

Going to BU was a chance for Macklin to refine the skills that not only made him the most dominant player on the ice, but could make him the sort of player who could be in the NHL at age 18. Aiden, a sixth-round pick by the Canucks in 2023, found BU appealing because it allowed him a slightly longer development runway.

That’s what made their year together even more rewarding. They were able to receive the individual development they needed. They were able to get that development while playing for a team that finished 28-10-2 and reached the Frozen Four, where they lost to the eventual national champion, Denver, in overtime.

But they were also able to spend time together away from hockey because they knew there was a chance everything could change if Macklin decided to leave BU after one season.

Playing at BU also allowed Aiden the opportunity to go through the time-honored challenge of seeing how their teammates could defend Macklin in practice.

“I’ve told him that as a defenseman, it’s difficult to defend him because he has that need, that want to score,” Aiden said. “At the same time, throughout the years I feel like I have learned to push his buttons and crack the code that is defending him. But it’s definitely not easy and it still isn’t easy. There’d be days I’d get the better of him and other days it feels like he’s a ghost.”

For a family as competitive as the Celebrinis, what allows Aiden to be comfortable admitting that defending his younger brother is a problem?

“Seeing him on the path he’s on, it’s not always easy being the brother,” Aiden said with Macklin just a few feet away. “You have your own challenges being compared to that, but at the end of the day, my love for him transcends all that. I’m so proud of him. I’m his biggest fan above all else. … I don’t think we see it as me versus him. We’re just so happy for each other’s successes. We’re there for our own journeys, but we’re there to help each other too.”


After the Sharks won the NHL draft lottery, Robyn had a spark of inspiration. Her thought was that the casita that became Aiden and Macklin’s room could use some updates, now that it looked like her second-oldest child would be moving closer to his family.

That’s when Rick broke the news to his wife: Macklin is not going to be living with his parents while he’s playing in the NHL. Especially when his parents live in Livermore — a 40-minute drive with no traffic in a metro area where traffic is nearly ever present.

“I mean, it’s close but not that close for a daily commute,” Macklin said. “If this was a couple years ago when we rented a house 10 minutes from the practice facility, then I’d probably live at home. It’s just far enough that I don’t think that would happen.”

Speaking of San Jose, the fact that his family lives there and he spent time with the Jr. Sharks has led to a discussion about Macklin being the closest thing to a hometown talent the franchise has ever had.

Macklin is aware of those conversations. He said while he loved living in the Bay Area, he was born and raised in Vancouver. That’s the place he considers his hometown while recognizing that the Bay Area has been a home for him and his family.

But having Macklin in the Bay Area where he could come visit or they could visit him while watching his games is more than what Rick and Robyn would have expected. Mainly because when a high-achieving couple like Rick and Robyn raise high-achieving children, it means nobody is in one place for too long.

As the Celebrinis spoke in Vancouver about Macklin’s path, they were missing Rick and Charlie. Rick was back in the Bay Area while Charlie was representing Canada at a tennis tournament in Mexico. Although Aiden and Macklin can spend time together, Robyn and R.J. have to travel to a youth hockey tournament in Montreal.

Being on the move between different countries — while operating in different time zones — is how the Celebrinis have come to navigate the world.

“I appreciate them more because I don’t get to see them a lot,” R.J. said. “It’s definitely awesome to have them here this summer. I just want to spend as much time with them as I can before they both go back to Boston or Mack to San Jose.”

Robyn jokes that everyone having such a hectic schedule is why they’ve not had many, if any, family vacations over the past five years. That’s another reason why the NHL draft holds such a special meaning.

It’s a celebration. But also a chance for the six of them to be together along with their grandparents, aunts and uncles in Las Vegas.

Thinking about what that moment will be like for his family causes Macklin to review the things his family did to get him there. He brings up how his dad moved to the Bay Area a year early and lived by himself while his mom raised him and his siblings by herself in Vancouver.

“It’s my dad leaving work early to take one of us to practice so my mom could take one of us to tennis or whatever,” Macklin said. “Their lives have been around helping us succeed and doing everything they can to help us achieve our goals. I don’t think any of us could say enough to let them know how much we appreciate them.”



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