One NHL scout described Daniel Catenacci
as, "One of those guys that's, 'Give me the puck, I want it, I want to be the guy who makes the play.'"
He didn't need the puck Tuesday night when he made one especially big play, getting around the Air Canada Centre rink in 14.017 seconds to win the fastest skater competition at the 2011 Home Hardware CHL/NHL Top Prospects Skills Competition.
Being first is nothing new to Catenacci. The Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds center was the first pick of the 2008 Ontario Hockey League Priority Draft, stamping him with a label of future star. It's a label he's done a solid job living up to, as his 30 assists and 50 points lead his team, and his 20 goals are second. He's No. 43 in NHL Central Scouting's mid-term ranking of the top North American skaters available for the 2011 Entry Draft.
His scoring totals are even more impressive when you consider that the Greyhounds have struggled for much of Catenacci's time with them -- they were fifth in the OHL Western Conference last season, but only made the playoffs by four points; they're last in the conference this season -- meaning he's seeing the other team's best checking line and top defense pairings 72 games a season.
"Last year we were a pretty mediocre team, this year we're down at the bottom," Catenacci told NHL.com. "It's tough being on the bottom team. Seeing the top players every night play against you, it's a hard thing."
However, Catenacci said he's tried to make it a personal challenge to showcase himself against the OHL's best.
"It's your draft year," he said. "Guys are expected to step up and play their best. I see it as a challenge to make myself better and my team better. It's really exciting, but at the same time hard, but I accept it."
He's certainly drawn the attention of scouts, and while he knows they're watching his every move this season, Catenacci said he's done his best to block out the extra sets of eyes.
"You can't worry about the scouts in the stands," he said. "You just have to go into every game knowing somebody is watching you and play your game. Otherwise, you'll fail."
It's a lesson he learned the hard way last season. He just 10 goals and 30 points last season, and earned a stern message from his coach at the time, Denny Lambert
"I think I had a pretty good start last year, and when I started to struggle and get frustrated he told me to calm down and block everything out and just play your game, and that's how you're going to get success," he said.
He also got help from his father. Maurice Catenacci played 15 professional seasons in various leagues in Italy, Germany and Slovenia, and Daniel calls him his mentor.
"I've always been the closest with my dad," said Daniel. "I talk to him before every single game and I talk to him after every game. He's been my mentor my whole life. He's somebody I've looked up to, so he really helps me with all that stuff. He's taught me most everything I know."
While Daniel credits his father for his skating speed, he said he's gotten another important skill from his dad.
"Confidence is a big thing," he said his father has told him. "If you don't have confidence you won't be able to do stuff (on the ice)."
He's also confident he knows where he needs to improve his game.
"I try to play an all-round game so I think I need to improve in all areas to get better," Catenacci said. "Last year was a bit of a learning experience for me. I didn't put up the points I wanted to. This year I feel a lot more comfortable."
He's also moved beyond the first-pick label and has set his sights on the next draft -- the one that will happen this June in Minnesota. And while the current Central Scouting rankings have him in the second-round range, he knows no ranking will determine where he gets picked.
"Being ranked a little lower is tough, but at the same time you see guys like Jeff Skinner
and Joey Hishon
rated around the second-round mark where I'm ranked now, and you see them going first round, top 15 picks (at the 2010 Entry Draft)," said Catenacci. "The rankings aren't exactly where you'll go in the draft so you have to work to be better and challenge yourself."
Contact Adam Kimelman at email@example.com