The Kraken’s 2024 first-round draft choice, Berkly Catton, is the son of two teachers. That directly connects to a high hockey IQ that Seattle GM Ron Francis, he of Hall of Fame on-ice IQ, raves about along with pretty much every scout, summer workout leader and opposing Western Hockey League coach, the latter glumly observing Catton scoring 54 goals for Spokane last season and using his playmaking intelligence to set up 62 more goals (by official assists) and probably a couple dozen on top of that by getting the puck through the neutral zone in a hurry.

The teacher-parent connection was evident two weeks ago Tuesday when Catton graduated from secondary school with some 400 classmates at Centennial Collegiate in Saskatoon, SK. A few hours later, he was boarding a flight to Las Vegas for the NHL Draft. Catton always prioritized his schoolwork before any childhood hockey pursuit.

Catton is also the descendent of a father and grandfather who are handy around the house and, well, the backyard too. Catton grew up a devotee of his dad Christopher’s small rink, constructed and frozen over every winter. Christopher routinely arranged mini-courses for his son to navigate in solo turning and stopping drills for hours.

Last summer, before his breakout scoring season that started with eight goals to lead Team Canada to gold at the famed Hlinka Gretzky top U18 prospects tournament every August, Catton decided his backyard dry-land “shooter tutor” tarp with small openings at the corners and “five-hole” (the space that can open, if only for an instant, between a goalie’s pads) hung over a goal needed a reality check. So, with guidance and companionship from paternal grandfather John Catton, the grandson who wowed fans and teammates alike at last week’s Kraken Development Camp got to woodwork, creating a goalie to perch in front of the shooting net.

Three days later, the wooden goaltender debuted with added leg pads and mask and, later, after hard shots proved the stand-in flimsy, Catton and Granddad attached a pole from the goalie to the crossbar to better absorb the blows. In a deft touch, along with the usual four corners and five-hole, Catton added a small opening under the armpits to mimic vulnerable spots when a goalie is moving to get in position.

It all worked pretty well, starting with the 2023 Hlinka Gretzky (“Canada’s best player in that tournament,” says Kraken director of amateur scouting Robert Kron) and continuing with the WHL breakout season in which he effectively doubled his goals, assists and points totals from a 2022-23 season featuring 23 goals, 32 assists for 55 points as a 17-year-old. That wooden goalie and long shooting sessions were all about Catton’s desire to prove he could score goals to accompany his high-level playmaking and puck movement that earned him top-five marks from the Elite Prospects scouting service for Best Hands, Best Offensive Forward, Best Transition Forward and Best Straight Skater” among 2024 draft hopefuls. His 116 points topped all draft-eligible players.

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“The Hlinka tournament was a huge confidence builder for me,” said Catton, walking from Sphere in Las Vegas on Draft night back to a suite at the Venetian hotel to reunite with his parents, including teacher-mom Desrae, for whom he wears jersey number “27” in Spokane to honor her birthday. “It’s the first tournament that I scored more goals than assists.”

Along with the year-round backyard marathon drills and practice, Catton has long availed himself of local coaching and training in Saskatoon. He skates summers in a regular group that includes 2023 third-round draft choice and defenseman Caden Price (“Pricer lives just down the street from me,” Catton told reports at development camp this past week).

Since early-grade school days, Catton has worked on-ice with Jordan Trach of Trach Power Skating, which includes notable NHL players Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Brayden Schenn, Ethan Bear, Connor Zary and Jake DeBrusk, plus other top prospects, such as Brayden Yager, who starred with Kraken 2022 second-rounder Jagger Firkus on 2024 WHL champion Moose Jaw. Talking with media, Trach had called out Catton’s “exceptional work ethic” and noted the Kraken top pick is “very, very serious” about his summer self-improvement program. One example: If Catton isn’t happy with his performance during a drill, he can be spotted reworking the move while waiting on his next turn.

He makes time in his purposeful summer weeks for strength and conditioning trainer Blaine Whyte of Pro Sport Rehab and Fitness in a workout group that includes Chicago defenseman and former WHL Seattle Thunderbirds star Kevin Korchinski (7th overall, 2022) and the aforementioned Yager, who was drafted 14th overall by Pittsburgh in the 2023 NHL Draft. In media interviews, Whyte has praised Catton’s “compete level” and “drive in him that is unique” focused more on self-improvement than bettering his workout mates.

Following graduation, flying to Vegas, going through the media grilling inherent to being picked No. 8 overall and flying off to Seattle for meet-and-greets and medical/fitness testing on June 30 and July 1, Catton was clearly happy to be back on the ice at Kraken Community Iceplex last Tuesday for the first day of development camp.

“It was nice to just kind of simple down and do the thing I love,” said Catton during a media scrum in which the questioning soon turned to the 18-year-old confidently providing his own scouting report for Kraken fans. “With my smarts and, and my skills, I'm able to make plays because of my brain. But I have a very strong skill set to allow me to do that. When I have the puck, I have the ability to change the momentum of the game and set up a guy, but I also have that scoring touch. I’m an offensive guy who likes to push the pace of the game.”

All of which lands us on what Catton plans to do or maybe even build more props this summer.

“My goal is to play in the NHL as soon as possible,” said Catton. “Looking at those guys [older prospects at development camp], they are developed in the lower body and legs. “That’s definitely one thing I want to improve on, get a little bit bigger and stronger [trainer Whyte concurs]. , The work on the defensive side. If you want to be trusted in the NHL, you have to be good defensively.”

A quote that is hockey music to new head coach Dan Bylsma and, no doubt, all-time great two-way center and Kraken GM Ron Francis.

“His numbers are great; the production he put up last year is amazing,” said Bylsma after day one of camp and his first on-ice look at the 2024 first-rounder. “I thought, especially in the couple games we played at the end, just saw how dynamic of a player he is, a playmaker Carter quick with a stick. I really enjoyed watching him there in the last game we were playing because you saw his full-on display for his skill and playmakng ability. “He’s put 50 goals in the net [in the WHL and thousands more in the backyard]... I really enjoyed the last part of that practice for him.”

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