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.
Yes, that’s right, my week in junior hockey, not weekend.
Last week I grappled with a full slate of Canadian Hockey League madness as I helped cover the Top Prospects game, junior hockey’s annual showcase of the best draft-eligible talent, for the Canadian Press in addition to my regular duties.
It all started on Monday night when I went to the teams’ practices and interviewed Ryan Nugent-Hopkins of the Red Deer Rebels, currently ranked third amongst North American skaters by the NHL’s Central Scouting department.
I was really pleased with my finished profile. “Nugent-Hopkins focused on improving his game” illustrated how impressively modest and grounded this young play-making centre is.
“It’s been an eventful week for Red Deer Rebels star Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.
Just six days ago Nugent-Hopkins was ranked third among draft-eligible North American skaters by the NHL’s Central Scouting department. Days later, he was named captain of Team Orr for the Canadian Hockey League’s Top Prospects game Wednesday night.
The six-foot centre is keeping it all in perspective though and remains humble about the two achievements.” Read the rest at Yahoo! Sports Canada.
On Tuesday morning I went to watch the Next Testing combine where the skaters for the Top Prospects games were put through their paces to measure and compare their skating ability through a series of drills. I didn’t have a piece to work on, I just wanted to see what it was all about and get to take in some of the best young players in the game in person.
I was most impressed with two players during the combine: Daniel Catenacci of the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds and Sven Bartschi of the Portland Winterhawks.
Catenacci blew me away with his speed. I didn’t have a stopwatch or anything with me, but it was clear that he was by far the fastest player on the ice that morning.
Bartschi’s seemingly effortless strides really struck me. He could keep pace with most of his competition, often peeling away from most of them, apparently without breaking a sweat. Incredible.
Wednesday was the main event. I joined my CP colleague Shi Davidi at the Air Canada Centre. He did the game story for wide release while I was responsible for the game’s sidebar and producing the agate file for paginators across Canada.
The morning was spent doing media scrums around head coaches Don Cherry and Doug Gilmour as well as Gilmour’s assistant Wendel Clark.
It was during these free-for-alls that Cherry spoke out about the lack of respect amongst players in the NHL, leading to disastrous head shots like David Steckel’s blindside of Sidney Crosby at the Winter Classic. Of course, it was a hot news item for most of the day, with Shi and I at the centre of the maelstrom.
For my sidebar I wound up doing a notebook on four of the smaller stories within the game that was only distributed to print outlets, including this bit on Shane Prince of the Ottawa 67’s:
“It was the most unheralded player at the Home Hardware CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game game that made the biggest impact for Team Cherry on Wednesday night
Left-winger Shane Prince of the Ottawa 67's was the only member on head coach Don Cherry's squad to score in the 7-1 drubbing handed out by Doug Gilmour's Team Orr.
After Team Orr jumped out to a quick 3-0 lead by the game's midway point, Prince put Team Cherry on the board. Although it was his team's only goal of the game, the 18-year-old from Spencerport, N.Y., was glad to make a difference.
‘It's a good feeling,’ Prince said after the game. ‘It doesn't say everything about a player but it’s definitely nice to get a goal.’
When the two rosters of draft-eligible prospects were originally drawn up, Prince was left out despite being second in the Ontario Hockey League's scoring race with 21 goals and 55 assists, three points behind his 67's linemate Tyler Toffoli, who has 41 goals and 38 assists for 79 points.
It took a nagging injury to Gabriel Landeskog of the Kitchener Rangers – currently ranked first amongst North American skaters by the National Hockey League’s Central Scouting – to make space for Prince on Team Cherry.
Prince is ranked 35th.
‘I completely believe in fate,’ Prince said. ‘It was definitely fate for me to be here. When I got the news I was very excited.
‘It's an experience I'll never forget.’”
All in all, it was a very busy but productive week. Lots of fun and a great learning experience for me as a journalist. Best of all, I got to see my name in print as I helped break some news, easily the biggest thrill for a reporter.
Friday Jan. 21st 2011
QMJHL: TIGRES NEED SIX ROUNDS TO DOWN HALIFAX IN SHOOTOUT
It took six rounds in the shootout, but the Victoriaville Tigres earned the win on Friday night.
Goaltender David Honzik turned aside three of the six shooters he faced and made 29 saves in regular play as the Tigres out-lasted the Halifax Mooseheads 5-4 in Quebec Major Junior Hockey League action.
OHL: MRAZEK, 67'S BLANK SPIRIT
Petr Mrazek stopped all 36 shots he faced and rookie Sean Monahan scored one goal and set up another Friday as the Ottawa 67's put an end to a three-game slide with a 3-0 victory over the Saginaw Spirit in Ontario Hockey League action.
The shutout was Mrazek's third of the OHL season and sixth of his career. It came after he gave up six goals in each of Ottawa's season-high three consecutive defeats last weekend.
WHL: SEGAL EARNS FOURTH SHUTOUT OF YEAR, GIANTS BLANK COUGARS
Mark Segal made 30 saves to earn his fourth shutout of the year to lead the Vancouver Giants to a 3-0 victory over the Prince George Cougars in Western Hockey League action Friday night.
Darren Bestland, Matt Bellerive and Nathan Burns scored for the Giants (23-19-5), while Spencer Bennett recorded an assist to extend his point streak to 10 consecutive games in a Vancouver uniform.
Saturday Jan. 22nd 2011
QMJHL; TITAN SCORE FIVE UNANSWERED TO BEAT MAINEIACS
The Acadie-Bathurst Titan kept their hot streak alive with some clutch play on Saturday night.
Sebastien Trudeau's game-winning goal was one of five unanswered scores as the Titan rallied to a 6-3 victory against the Lewiston Maineiacs Quebec Major Junior Hockey League action.
OHL: ICEDOGS KEEP LEAGUE'S TOP HOME RECORD WITH WIN
The Hamilton brothers and Ryan Strome insured the Niagara IceDogs continued their home-ice domination Saturday.
Niagara maintained the Ontario Hockey League's top home record with a come-from-behind 5-4 shootout victory over the Sudbury Wolves.
WHL: BRAES SCORES OVERTIME WINNER AS HURRICANES TOP PATS
Cam Braes scored a goal, an assist and the overtime winner to lead the Lethbridge Hurricanes to a 3-2 win over the Regina Pats in the Western Hockey League Saturday night.
Landon Oslanski also had a three point night for the Hurricanes (16-22-9) with a goal and two assists.
Sunday Jan. 23rd 2011
QMJHL: SEA DOGS DOUBLE UP RIVAL REMPARTS
The Saint John Sea Dogs dealt a blow to their closest Quebec Major Junior Hockey League rival on Sunday afternoon.
Zack Phillips' power-play goal with seven seconds left in the second period stood as the winner in Saint John's 4-2 triumph over the Quebec Remparts.
OHL: STORM RALLY LATE IN THIRD TO STUN 67'S
Taylor Beck and Cody McNaughton scored 20 seconds apart in the final minute of the third period to lift the Guelph Storm to a 4-3 come-from-behind victory over the Ottawa 67's in Ontario Hockey League action Sunday.
The Storm (21-19-5) trailed 3-1 heading into the third period before Beck scored during a 5-on-3 power play to cut the lead to one.