Kitchener Rangers defenseman Ryan Murphy might be the most offensively skilled blueliner in the 2011 Entry Draft, while Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds center Daniel Catenacci easily is among the draft's best skaters.
For those two gifts, they have their minor hockey coach to thank.
Moe Catenacci, Daniel's father, coached both boys with the York Simcoe Express Hockey Association for 10 years, from the time the boys were 7 years old until they hit 16 and left for the Ontario Hockey League.
"I coached them from age 7, and they've been together ever since," Moe Catenacci, currently the vice president of hockey operations for the Newmarket Hurricanes team in the Ontario Hockey Association, told NHL.com. "They're best friends, and our families are very close."
Catenacci said it didn't take him long to realize Murphy was going to be a special player. Murphy now is listed at 5-foot-10 and 166 pounds -- trending small for the average NHL defenseman. Moe played 15 seasons in Europe and believed turning Murphy into a Euro-style blueliner would be the youngster's best chance at a future in professional hockey.
"I was used to seeing some of the European defensemen with the skill, and given (Murphy's) frame and body type," he said, "I figure that was the best way he could further his hockey and be a good player, by developing that skill and skating as a defenseman, because he wanted to play defense. We worked on the offensive part of the game with him, and year after year a lot of the people would question me, how could you let the guy play like that. I said if they don't try it at an early age they'll never be able to do it later. He ran with it and he loved it."
Moe said at about age 13 or 14 Murphy hit full flight with his skill set, and he's been going strong ever since. Kitchener selected him with the third pick of the 2009 OHL Draft, and after scoring 39 points in 62 games last season, Murphy led all OHL defensemen with 26 goals this past season and was second with 79 points. He's No. 10 on NHL Central Scouting's final ranking of North American skaters for the 2011 Entry Draft.
"Ryan's work on the power play is outstanding," Central Scouting's Chris Edwards said. "He sees the ice very well and is creative, (has) excellent passing ability and a great shot that he gets through to the net. (He's) also an excellent all-round skater. He's got real good mobility. He's a bit of a gambler. He does move the puck well, but he's going to have to concentrate on making good plays."
Murphy gives full credit to Moe Catenacci for his success.
"He always just let me play my game," Murphy told NHL.com. "He was the coach who developed the offensive side of my game. That's huge for me today. That's what I'm known for -- I'm known as an offensive defenseman. That's all credit to him. He never held me back. He let me play as much offense as I wanted and because of him I'm where I am now."
Daniel Catenacci can say much of the same. He started skating at age 2 when the family lived in Italy, where Moe spent the majority of his European career. Early on in Daniel's hockey career, Moe knew his son had a gift for the game.
"His compete level, even at a young age, was far above everyone else's," Moe said. "He didn't want to lose. ... As he got older, working with his skills and his skating, they were above average. Combining his skills with his passion for the game -- I think ultimately that's what you need, the passion. You can have all the skills in the world, but if you don't have the heart and passion for it, it won't matter. I saw that in him and thought if he continues he'll have a good future in the game."
The scouts certainly think so. He was taken by Sault Ste. Marie with the first pick of the 2009 OHL Draft, and after scoring 30 points in 65 games last season, he led the Greyhounds with 45 assists and 71 points this past season, while his 26 goals were second on the team. He also won the fastest skater competition at January's CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game; Central Scouting his him ranked 37th.
"Daniel is a high-energy, skilled guy that really competes, wants to have the puck," said an NHL scout from a Western Conference team. "He's one of those guys that says, 'Give me the puck, I want it. I want to be the guy who makes the play.'"
Much like Murphy, Daniel credits his father for a great deal of his success.
"I've always been the closest with my dad," Daniel told NHL.com. "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."
When father and son become coach and player, however, it can create a difficult dynamic.
"At times I felt sorry for him because at times you tend to be harder on your own son," Moe said. "If you're going to coach your own son, that's how it has to be. At times he would say, 'Dad I play more when I play for someone else.' But if he plays more, it's 'He plays him because it's his son.' At times I took ice time away from him because of that. Playing under other coaches he would get more ice time."
Daniel agreed that playing for his father could be a challenge, but said the benefits far outweighed any negatives.
"I think it was good because he's a really smart guy and a really smart coach," Daniel said. "He's helped me so much over the years. It was tough to play for your dad, he was a little tougher on me (but) it was a lot of fun with all the guys and having him coach me."
Moe said not only did he get to coach his son, he watched the friendship blossom between Daniel and Ryan, to the point where Moe said, "Ryan's like my own kid."
Moe will be in Minnesota to watch his kids go through the Entry Draft.
"I'm really excited for them," he said. "All the work that they put into it ... these kids have grown up with us. I've seen all the time and sacrifice they've made for this game. More than anything I just want to see the smiles on their faces and what they deserve. They deserve to be in that situation and being in Minnesota and having the opportunity of being drafted by an NHL club. It's well-deserved."
Contact Adam Kimelman at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK