Prep Watch is a new weekly feature on THN.com that focuses on minor hockey prospects destined to become big names in major junior or the NCAA – and hopefully one day, the NHL.
It’s funny how good hockey players sometimes cluster together. To wit; Steven Stamkos, Cody Hodgson and Michael Del Zotto all played for the same Markham Waxers triple-A team before becoming stars in the Ontario League.
Sooner than later, pundits will likely be making the same observations about this year’s minor midget York Simcoe Express. Three of the top prospects for this year’s OHL draft hail from the Newmarket, Ont., squad – offensive defenseman Ryan Murphy, sniper Brandon Francisco and, perhaps the first pick in the upcoming ‘O’ draft, captain Daniel Catenacci.
So what makes Catenacci, a 5-foot-10, 178-pound center, an early favorite for No. 1 status?
“You’re getting an all-around player who you can play in any situation of the game,” said Express assistant coach Peter Higley. “His speed and his ability to create is incredible.”
Catenacci agrees on his strengths.
“Speed is my top skill,” he said. “I think I have pretty good vision, too.”
In terms of what he needs to work on, the youngster has a common malady for his age group.
“My temper,” he said. “Sometimes I get a little mad when things don’t go my way.”
Things generally do go his way with Francisco on his right wing, however. Catenacci has been torching high-level opponents for several years now and though the team doesn’t track statistics on a game-to-game basis, multi-point performances are the norm.
“But he’s maybe had his best game when he hasn’t scored a point,” Higley said. “He’s rarely scored on. Daniel’s very defensively responsible.”
The Express is coming off a convincing tournament win at the London Jr. Knights Green and Gold showdown. And though exposure from upcoming tourneys such as the Silver Stick or the OHL Cup is important, the young pivot doesn’t like to rest. His father, Maurice Catenacci, is the head coach of the Express and that consistency is something he has embedded in his son.
“Those are important tournaments,” the younger Catenacci said. “But there’s always someone watching you, so you can’t take a night off.”
His chemistry with Francisco has propelled both players into the spotlight, but whether they continue to play together at the next level remains to be seen. Francisco has an early verbal commitment to the University of Maine and though Catenacci has also been offered a spot with the Black Bears, there’s also the lure of major junior to think about.
“The OHL would probably be my ideal place to play right now,” Catenacci said. “I think about it every day.”
And if he needs any advice on what to expect at the next level, Catenacci’s got a couple inside sources. Gregg Sutch is a rookie with the Sarnia Sting and Tyler Mort is in his first year with the Kingston Frontenacs. Catenacci played with both of them as a call-up with York Simcoe’s ‘92 team last year.
Wherever he ends up, Catenacci is likely going to be a prominent voice in the dressing room.
“He’s a leader,” Higley said. “Year after year, he’s the guy. We let our players choose our captain and they chose him.
“He has a bubbly personality. It’s like talking to an older man.”
And if he continues to develop his skill set, it’s not far-fetched to think one day Catenacci will play like a man amongst boys at an even higher level of hockey.
Prep Watch, which features minor hockey players destined to become big names in major junior or the NCAA, appears every Thursday, only on thehockeynews.com.
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