(Note: This article is part of a top-ten countdown of the Buffalo Sabres' top prospects. In order to be considered a prospect, the player has be eligible for the Calder Trophy this season, which means they cannot have played more than 25 games in the NHL in any season prior. This removes Corey Tropp, Luke Adam, Jhonas Enroth and Cody Hodgson from contention.)
Before this year's NHL Draft, center was a position of weakness for the Buffalo Sabres. That did not necessarily mean that the cupboard was bare though.
Daniel Catennaci was drafted in the third round of the 2011 NHL Draft by the Sabres out of Sault Ste. Marie of the Ontario Hockey League. Now playing with Owen Sound, Catenacci scored 72 points in 67 games last season for the Attack.
After the selection of Catenacci, the Sabres' talent at the center position certainly increased, but he has been somewhat overlooked by many pundits due to his short stature. At 5'10", Catenacci does not have the size of 2012 draftees Mikhail Grigorenko or Zemgus Girgensons, but it's not as if he's Nathan Gerbe-sized either.
Catenacci also plays with a motor and isn't afraid to venture into the rough areas of the ice. He certainly doesn't mind mucking it up a bit, notching over 110 penalty minutes his last two seasons in the OHL.
And despite his size, the talent is certainly there. In 2009, Sault Ste. Marie picked him first overall in the OHL Priority Selection, bringing him to a club that includes the likes of Steven Stamkos and John Tavares.
Watching Catenacci skate, it's obvious why he's succeeded in major junior. He has an NHL stride already, capped off by blazing speed. He is also excellent laterally, which will serve him greatly once his puck handling abilities catch up to his skating.
But sometimes it seems he uses his speed as a crutch. In the Traverse City prospects tournament the Sabres' young guns won prior to last season, Catenacci seemed to rely too heavily on his speed and tenaciousness and not enough on hockey IQ and positioning. If he is able to improve on those aspects of his game, he could fight for a top-six spot on the Sabres.
Catenacci has one more year of eligibility in the OHL, and will likely stay with Owen Sound to play out his last year. He has signed his entry-level deal though, so it is possible he could end up in Rochester this season. But in all likelihood, Catenacci will suit up against the OHL for one more season and compete for a top-six AHL job next year, with the Sabres not far behind.
Prediction: Plays in the OHL, likely scoring north of 85 points if he remains healthy.
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