The WHL draft doesn't usually take place in December, but due to the pandemic the 2021 edition got delayed until today. For the Spokane Chiefs, the wait was worth it as the franchise was finally able to select and sign center Berkly Catton, the top-rated prospect who had held that title since last spring (when the draft ordinarily would have happened).
Catton, a native of Saskatoon, has been on the radar for a while thanks to a monster 2019-20 campaign with the under-15 Saskatoon Bandits that saw him pile up 58 goals and 108 points in just 30 games - putting him 24 points clear of the team's next-highest scorer.
Last year, Catton played for the under-18 Saskatoon Contacts during their brief pandemic-limited campaign, allowing him to suit up with the next generation of WHL talents: Moose Jaw's Brayden Yager, Prince George's Riley Heidt and Red Deer's Kalan Lind were also on that squad.
Sometimes I joke that the 50-50 pots at the 2010 world juniors in Saskatchewan were so large that in a generation, the province would have an explosion of talent. Now it seems like a reality.
This year, Catton headed across the border for a stint at Shattuck-St. Mary's, the famed prep school that has graduated the likes of Sidney Crosby, Nathan MacKinnon and Jonathan Toews. Playing for the under-16 squad, the young pivot rang up 23 points in 15 games.
"He has terrific skill level and the ability to create," said Ben Umhoefer, director of hockey at Shattuck-St. Mary's. "He has confidence with the puck and an electric stick - he scored some beautiful goals. Just a really skilled player and it doesn't take long to figure that out when you see him on the ice."
Of course, character is also important, particularly with elite kids who have the pressure of being a No. 1 pick on them, but that doesn't seem to be a problem for Catton.
"He's a really fun, happy-go-lucky kid," Umhoefer said. "Total rink rat, diligent with his school work, goes to bed early and does all the things you need to do to be a good player. Just fun to be around."
Catton planned to return to Saskatoon for the rest of the year, but he's actually eligible to play a limited number of games for Spokane this season as an affiliate player. Next year, he can be with the Chiefs full-time.
Having just traded big two-way center Jack Finley (TB) to the Winnipeg Ice and knowing that top scorers Luke Toporowski and Bear Hughes (WSH) are aging out of the WHL this summer, the Chiefs have room for young blood, especially a skilled player such as Catton.
Interestingly enough, the U.S. Division in the WHL could get very fun to watch in the near future if cross-state rival Seattle lands another top prospect, Macklin Celebrini. A Shattuck-St. Mary's player himself, Celebrini was taken first overall by the Thunderbirds yesterday in the WHL's U.S. priority draft. He's been a superstar for the school's prep team, even though he's 15 on a squad filled with under-18s.