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2023 NHL Draft prospect profile: Mathieu Cataford brings high IQ


In the second or third round and beyond, NHL teams will find few guarantees, if any. The general strategy is to draft players who do at least one thing very well, and then develop that player to reach their potential. More complete players are generally gone within the first 20 picks, so you have to bet on something that you believe will simplify the development process.

Mathieu Cataford may not have an elite toolkit, but he brings some of the best hockey IQ you’re likely to find on day two of the 2023 NHL Entry Draft. If general hockey sense is something your team covets, he should absolutely be on your list come June 29.

Birthplace: Châteauguay, Québec
Date of birth: March 1, 2005
Shoots: Right
Position: Right Wing
Height: 5’11”
Weight: 187 lbs.
Team: Halifax Mooseheads (QMJHL)

A product of the Collège Charles Lemoyne program – just across the river from Montreal – Cataford was a top-10 pick for the Halifax Mooseheads in the 2021 QMJHL Draft. He was immediately productive with the club, putting up 46 points in his rookie season and earning All-Rookie Team honours.

This earned him a more significant role with a Mooseheads team that went on a deep run in 2022-23, succumbing only to the eventual Memorial Cup champion Québec Remparts. His production jumped on the powerhouse Halifax side, with 75 points through 68 contests.

Cataford’s game centres around excellent hockey sense and off-puck positioning. He has an unmatched ability to be in the right place at the right time, and when playing with high-level playmakers like Jordan Dumais in Halifax, this presents him with a lot of opportunities. He sees the game better than most players at his level, and this allows him to get lost in coverage, then pop back into the frame with a high-danger scoring chance set up by one of his linemates.

Most of his 31 goals on the year were just several feet from the crease, as he is incredibly effective at reading developing plays and making himself available for cross-slot passes, or pouncing on rebounds. He has that intangible “nose for the net” quality about him, loving to get to the front of the net, and doing so often.

Physicality plays a part in how effective he is at getting there. At just a shade under six feet tall and nearly 190 pounds, he’s a far cry from small and plays with an edge to his game. This can lead to some undisciplined penalties, but when he remains in control he can be a nasty forechecker to deal with. Strong physical presences who like to get to the net will usually be able to find some success at the next level, elevating his NHL likelihood.

If he had elite skating or puck skills, he’d likely be a no-brainer in the first round. His skating is slightly above average for the QMJHL, but could use improvement before he turns professional. His overall puck skills are perhaps below average, and he relies quite heavily on his teammates to be able to take advantage of his positioning as a result. There are flashes of great stick-handling in his game, but being able to get around defenders on his own with the puck would add another level to his game that just isn’t there right now.

Mitch Brown & Lassi Alanen’s tracking project

His shot is not a lauded quality, but I’d argue it is underrated thanks to low volume. He has a very quick release with his snapshot, and can pick corners from distance when he isn’t getting to the low slot. He also has a nasty backhander, something he tends to use more in his favourite spots close to the net. Halifax will be losing some veterans going into next year, so the Mooseheads – as well as any NHL team that drafts him – will likely want to see him increase his volume, and show more of what he can do from distance.  

He projects as a competent middle-six scoring winger if all goes well with his development. His penchant for net-driving is at times reminiscent of a bigger Brendan Gallagher, which suggests a possibility for him to play up in an NHL lineup if and when a need arises. If he can continue to add strength, and potentially add another gear to his skating, it would solidify if not improve his eventual ceiling at the professional level.

Preliminary Rankings

Dobber Prospects: #53
Elite Prospects: #81
FCHockey: #39
Hockey Prospect: #52
Hadi Kalakeche: #74
McKeen’s: #56
Bob McKenzie (TSN): #45
NHL Central Scouting: #36 (North American Skaters)
Corey Pronman (The Athletic): #57
Scott Wheeler (The Athletic): #48

A consensus there is most certainly not with Cataford, as he’s ranked anywhere from high second-round to the middle of the third. Hockey sense is always a good attribute to bet on with Junior players, as it is hard to teach, but he lacks some of the elite skills that typically push players higher in the draft.

At the scouting combine, Cataford himself noted that he feels the Montreal Canadiens have shown some strong interest in his services. I’d be surprised if he isn’t at least on their radar for the 69th pick, depending on how things shake out on day two. Without a consensus to consider, we can look at his average ranking, which would put him in the early 60s, so it is possible he makes it to them without a need to trade up.

His hockey sense should provide a safe floor, and potentially a higher ceiling than currently projected if his development goes well. I think he makes a fantastic pick early in the third round, and if it isn’t the Habs, he may make them regret overlooking another home-grown talent.

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