The National Hockey League’s Central Scouting Bureau released its final rankings for draft eligible amateur players on Monday. Not surprisingly, the top three North American skaters were Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Gabriel Landeskog and Jonathan Huberdeau.
But those high picks are only a small part of the draft. What if your team has a low pick, or maybe no picks in the first round, who should you be hoping to get for that instant impact? Who is the sleeper of the 2011 draft?
Look no further than Daniel Catenacci of the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds.
The five-foot-10 skater from Newmarket, Ont., was ranked 37th in the Central Scouting’s final report on domestic skaters, up from 43rd in January's midterm rankings.
When you mix in international skaters and goaltenders that means Catenacci could go as late as the third round of the NHL draft on June 24.
It’s an understandable fate when you look at the 18-year-old’s numbers from the Ontario Hockey League. Last season he had 26 goals and 45 assists with a minus-5 +/- rating and 117 penalty minutes. The year before that, Catenacci was a non-factor with 10 goals and 20 assists.
But Catenacci has a quality that most of his draft classmen lack: speed.
The above video is from the Canadian Hockey League Top Prospects game at Toronto’s Air Canada Centre on Jan. 19, when Catenacci put the afterburners on and broke open the scoring for Team Orr while shorthanded.
In that video it’s obvious that he’s by far the fastest player on the ice. In fact, he usually is, but that clip is exceptional. The guys in his dust are the best and brightest the CHL has to offer and yet they can’t catch him.
Earlier that week I attended the Next Testing session at the Mastercard Centre for Hockey Excellence where the Top Prospects were put through their paces. Dead sprints, agility tests, you name it, they did it.
Again, Catenacci was, by far, the best skater, outmanoeuvring and outpacing the other 40 or so players being tested. (You can see some of his performance here.)
At the Top Prospects skills competition, Catenacci was name the fastest skater, turning in a performance way ahead of the pack.
Why does all this matter? Because the thing that strikes most rookies when entering the NHL is the speed of the game. For their entire careers they’ve been one of the top players on their team, if not the best, and that usually includes being the best skater. But coming to the NHL they’ve finally found their level, and that doesn’t hold true anymore.
As a result, most rookies spend their first year as a professional trying to improve their skating and catching up to their teammates and opponents. It hurts their vision of the ice and impacts their ability to make plays.
Catenacci, presumably, won’t have that kind of trouble, since he should be able to keep pace.
His speed will also be an asset as he finds his role in the NHL. After all, what assignments are rookies usually given? Penalty killing, checking lines, defensive work and all with limited ice time. In all three cases, a fast skater will, pardon the pun, excel.
Although he’s not the prolific scorer that a Nugent-Hopkins, Landeskog or Huberdeau will be, Daniel Catenacci’s speed is an undeniable advantage that will make him NHL-ready before most of his peers and, hopefully, will increase his value come draft day. Certainly, any team will be lucky to have him on their depth charts.
Unfortunately, my Twitter account has been acting up a little, both online and on my Blackberry. Otherwise, I would have been Tweeting all last week about how excited I was for Sunday’s match between the Ottawa 67’s and Rangers in Kitchener, Ont.
Those two clubs have the best offences in the Ontario Hockey League and rank with the Portland Winterhawks, Moncton Wildcats and Lewiston Maineiacss as some of the most potent attacks in junior hockey today.
The Rangers have league-leading scorer Jason Akeson as their top forward. Unbelievably, this talented winger has gone undrafted the past two years, and went unsigned after a free agent tryout with the Anaheim Ducks.
Akeson’s 12 goals and has set up 34 others so far this season are undoubtedly making general managers across the National Hockey League regret not signing him.
Who’s trailing Akeson in the scoring race? Ryan Martindale of, you guessed it, the 67’s. He’s got 17 markers and 23 assists so far this season.
Martindale’s linemate Tyler Toffoli is leading the league in goals scored with 22. Kitchener’s Gabriel Landeskog is right behind him with 19.
In other words, Sunday’s game promised to have some offensive fireworks.
The game definitely did not disappoint, either.
Toffoli and Shane Prince – fourth in OHL scoring – scored in the shootout as the 67’s edged the Rangers 5-4. Toffoli also scored twice in regulation, Martindale had two assists and Prince had one.
Landeskog had a pair of goals and an assist, while Akeson padded his scoring lead with a goal and an assist.
Games like that are what make hockey great.
Friday, November 19th 2010
QMJHL: MOOSEHEADS KEEP STREAKS GOING WITH WIN OVER ROUYN-NORANDA
The Halifax Mooseheads started one streak and kept another alive Friday night.
Konrad Abeltshauser put away the winner 4:09 into the third period as Halifax shaded the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies 3-2 in Quebec Major Junior Hockey League action.
OHL: SMITH-PELLY SCORES TWICE AS MAJORS EDGE ICEDOGS
Devante Smith-Pelly's second goal of the game midway into the third period lifted the Mississauga St. Michael's Majors to a 2-1 victory over the Niagara IceDogs in the Ontario Hockey League Friday night.
The winner came as Smith-Pelly broke in on the right wing, took a pass from centre Casey Cizikas and beat Niagara goaltender Mark Visentin from close range.
WHL: LAMOUREUX'S OT GOAL GIVES GIANTS COMEBACK WIN OVER PATS
Greg Lamoureux's goal 1:58 into overtime gave the Vancouver Giants a come-from-behind 5-4 victory over the Regina Pats in Western Hockey League action Friday night.
Brendan Gallagher led the Giants (13-8-3) with two goals and an assist and also drew the penalty that set the stage for Lamoureux's winner. Matt MacKay and Nathan Burns also tallied for Vancouver in a wildly entertaining game before a raucous crowd of 11,476 at the Pacific Coliseum.
Saturday, November 20th 2010
QMJHL: LEWISTON DOWN SHAWINIGAN FOR 10TH STRAIGHT VICTORY
The Lewiston Maineiacs continued to roll through their Quebec Major Junior Hockey League competition Saturday.
Olivier Dame-Malka scored in overtime as the Maineiacs edged the Shawinigan Cataractes 2-1 for their 10th straight win. Lewiston sits fourth overall in the QMJHL.
OHL: AGOZZINO SCORES FOUR TIMES AS NIAGARA DOWNS OTTAWA
Captain Andrew Agozzino led his Niagara IceDogs by example Saturday night.
Agozzino scored four times as Niagara dropped the Ottawa 67's 5-3 in Ontario Hockey League action.
WHL: WINTERHAWKS PUT THE FREEZE ON BLAZERS
Nino Niederreiter scored a pair of goals and Taylor Aronson had a goal and two assists to lead the Portland Winterhawks past the Kamloops Blazers 6-4 in Western Hockey League play on Saturday night.
The game turned ugly at the end of the second period with three fights breaking out after the horn had sounded.
Sunday, November 21st 2010
QMJHL: REMPARTS SNAP LEWISTON'S 10 GAME WIN STREAK
The Quebec Remparts knew they needed to beat the Lewiston Maineiacs to hold on to their lead in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League's East Division.
Martin Lefebvre opened the scoring for Quebec and added two assists as the Remparts got a crucial 4-2 victory against the rival Maineiacs Sunday afternoon.
OHL: TOFFOLI LEADS 67'S PAST RANGERS
The Ontario Hockey League's most prolific offences were on full display Sunday afternoon.
Shane Prince and Tyler Toffoli scored in the shootout to power the Ottawa 67's past the Kitchener Rangers 5-4 in a game that showcased some of the best forwards in the league.
Now things get interesting.
I made some predictions in this space last Wednesday, and, well, as far as prognostication goes I guess I shouldn’t quit my day job.
The biggest shock is that the Windsor Spitfires, favoured by me to win the Ontario Hockey League’s Western Conference, looks dead on arrival, already trailing the Kitchener Rangers 3-0 in their semifinal match-up.
Most shocking of all is that the third loss came on a heartbreaking goal when Kitchener’s Gabriel Landeskog dumped the puck into Windsor’s end where it bounced past Troy Passingham to stand as the winner.
(Check out of 3:54 of this video to see for yourself.)
It’s shocking to see last year’s Memorial Cup Champions, featuring a host of all-star talent including Taylor Hall and Cam Fowler, struggling like this. They're a stocked roster that most liked to win the John Ross Robertson cup.
If anything, this just opens the door for an easy Barrie Colts victory in the final, as they will surely finish off the Mississauga St. Michael’s Majors.
Similarly, the Drummondville Voltigeurs, my favourites to win the Quebec Major Junior hockey League, are down 2-0 in their series with the Moncton Wildcats.
It gets worse for Drummondville too: the next two games of the season will be in New Brunswick, with Moncton having home ice advantage.
I thought that the stellar play of goaltender Jake Allen would be enough to sustain the Voltigeurs, but it looks like an all-New Brunswick final is the QMJHL’s destiny, with both Moncton and the Saint John Sea Dogs looking strong.
Meanwhile, both series in the Western Hockey League are all tied up at 1-1. The Calgary Hitmen and Brandon Wheat Kings will meet again on Tuesday night in Manitoba, while the Tri-City Americans and Vancouver Giants will hook up in British Columbia the same night.
I should note that I have some good news and some bad news. The Good: I have been moved to the pagination department for the duration of the summer and will return to the junior hockey beat in September. The Bad: This means that I will not be writing or editing Canadian Hockey League copy for the rest of the playoffs.
Fear not dear reader! I will still write about the goings-on in Canadian junior hockey every Monday. It's a drug; I'm addicted.