(Buffalo) It’s bustling with action in the hotel lobby on Tuesday noon. Here we are in the middle of the NHL evaluation camp. Agents, hopefuls and team leaders shake hands, take news, have a bite to eat.

At a table, half a dozen agents from Quartexx, the former firm of Kent Hughes, are grouped together. At another, Pat Brisson and J.P. Barry, two bigwigs of the powerful CAA agency, settle big files, unless they talk about Canada burning and the smell of campfire that invades Buffalo without stopping at customs. Who knows.

Crusaders throughout the day: Bill Armstrong, GM of the Coyotes from [insert location of your choice], Daniel Brière, the man who blew up Twitter earlier this afternoon by trading Ivan Provorov, Dave Nonis, new assistant to the GM in Calgary, John Sedgwick, the promotion major of the Canadian for all that relates to the collective agreement.

It is in this somewhat intimidating environment that we sit down to table with Mathieu Cataford, one of the QMJHL’s good hopes for the 2023 draft. He finds us with what looks like the turkey and avocado sandwich on the lunch menu, but with the salad as an accompaniment, rather than the fries that the most unruly will order.

“It would be stupid for a general manager to come in and see me eating fries!” “says the young man from Saint-Constant.

“I’m careful. Guys can eat anything and it doesn’t show. Me, it goes up fast! I’m a guy who likes to eat extra, so sometimes it’s hard. »

Cataford is one of the hopefuls invited to this evaluation camp, where the players chain interviews with the teams, sometimes go to dinner with DGs, before submitting to physical tests on the last day, Saturday.

At 18, Cataford dreams of the NHL, like his 105 acolytes here. His road to him currently passes through the Mooseheads. A happy coincidence for a young person whose idol is Sidney Crosby, from the suburbs of Halifax. “Growing up, it was as if people didn’t like to take for the Canadiens and took for another team, he says. Me, it was the Penguins, my room was painted in the colors of the Penguins. »

“I live next to Cole Harbour, and at the entrance there’s a sign that says ‘Home of Sidney Crosby.’ I have my picture in front of the sign! »

The waiter returns as he concludes his anecdote. “Shall I send the bill to your room?” Cataford asks him. “I won’t charge the National League!” “, he says, laughing.

Cataford ranks 36th among North American prospects, according to the NHL Central Scouting rankings. Within the Cecchini circuit, only Ethan Gauthier (16th) and Étienne Morin (19th) are better ranked.

“Everybody would like to go out in the first round,” he admits. Me, I see myself at the end of the first round, beginning of the second. At worst, my agent doesn’t think I’ll make it past the second round, but that’s not guaranteed. Except it’s not where you go out, it’s what you do after that matters. Tristan Luneau came out in the second round last year and is the defenseman of the year in the QMJHL. »

For the average amateur, he doesn’t have the sexiest profile. His 75 points in 68 games this season is a nice harvest, but far from the 140 points of Jordan Dumais, his teammate best scorer in the league.

But the points won’t necessarily be his bread and butter. “Character”, “hockey sense”, he does not cheat, sums up a scout. “The kind of player that all coaches are going to love coaching. »

Cataford recognizes himself in this description.

Later, he was asked about his best memory of the Mooseheads’ playoff journey, which reached the QMJHL final before losing in six games against Quebec.

“It’s funny, but it’s a loss. Against Sherbrooke, in game 2, we lost 2-0. Dumais and two other players were injured. But we came back and tied it with nine seconds left. We ended up losing in overtime, but we knew that was the turning point, because we could play with them, even with injuries. And we won the next four games. »

His role in the equalizer? “I was hiding the guardian. » Did he get a point? ” No. It’s funny to say, but if I’m not there to hide the goalkeeper, maybe we don’t score. [Zachary] L’Heureux didn’t have a point either, but he won the race for the puck on the face-off. It’s not always the points either! »

As of this writing, 18 teams, including the Canadiens, have expressed interest in meeting Cataford. “I just want to be drafted by a team that will have a plan for me,” he said.

The interview draws to a close, not before the waiter returns “A man over there took care of the bill and told me not to charge you anything. Here is a benevolent agent.