The 2018 NHL Entry Draft has had promising early returns for the Detroit Red Wings. Filip Zadina, who the team got sixth overall, is unquestionably the headliner as his flashy offensive prowess has fans envisioning him filling opponents’ nets with pucks. Likewise, Halifax Mooseheads’ defenseman Jared McIsaac looks like a steal at 36th overall after putting up 62 points in 53 games in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL) this season.
Furthermore, Swedish forward Jonatan Berggren (32nd overall) is a tantalizing talent who had his season cut short by injuries. While all of these players provide hope for an organization that is currently in flux, Drummondville Voltigeurs center Joseph Veleno (30th overall) has rocketed toward the top of the Red Wings’ prospect rankings and is proving that he is a core piece of the team’s future going forward.
Veleno’s Stint with the Sea Dogs
The slick pivot started his tenure with the Saint John Sea Dogs at the tender age of 15 after being selected first overall in the QMJHL draft. He is one of just six players in Canadian Hockey League history, and the first ever in the QMJHL, to be granted “exceptional status,” which allowed him to play at such a young age.
He impressed in his rookie season, amassing 43 points in 62 games. His on-ice vision and defensive responsibility were standout aspects of his playing style. Unfortunately for Veleno, the Sea Dogs were deep down the middle, and he found himself in a third-line role without much power-play time available. The same situation was present during his sophomore season, which saw him garner 40 points in 45 games as a 16-year-old, but his deployment in the lineup again limited his offensive production.
Thankfully, come his draft year in 2017-18, Veleno had a more substantial role and was named the captain of the team. On the other hand, the Sea Dogs were coming off a QMJHL championship and had their roster ravaged over the offseason. Without much of a supporting cast, the 6-foot-1 centerman produced 31 points in 31 games before being mercifully traded to the Voltigeurs.
Dominance in Drummondville
Veleno blossomed into a point-producing star following the trade. While the Sea Dogs finished the season with the worst record in the QMJHL (14-43-11), Veleno tallied 48 points over his last 33 games and led the Voltigeurs to the second round of the playoffs. His point total following the trade opened eyes ahead of the 2018 NHL Entry Draft, as he had already proved that he is a reliable two-way centerman. Veleno’s offense was the cause for concern among the scouting community, but it was almost unanimous that he would be among the top-15 picks come draft day. In a shocking turn of events, Veleno fell all the way down to the Red Wings at 30th overall, which undoubtedly put a chip on his shoulder heading into 2018-19.
Following the draft, he was one of the Red Wings’ most impressive youngsters during the 2018 NHL Prospect Tournament in Traverse City. He also stood out to head coach Jeff Blashill throughout training camp and the preseason with his edge work and passing ability. Even with the strong showing, Veleno was shipped back to junior for the 2018-19 season. He exploded out of the gate for the Voltigeurs, registering 38 points through his first 23 games. Veleno joined the Canadian World Junior team due to his spectacular early-season performance. He received limited playing time, despite being effective in both ends of the ice, and tallied two assists in five games in the tournament.
Upon returning to Drummondville, he continued to score at a torrid pace. Veleno finished the season with 42 goals, 62 assists, and a plus-63 rating in 59 games. He was a massive reason why the Voltigeurs finished second in the league standings with a 52-13-3 record, although they eventually bowed out in the second round of the playoffs. He was deservedly named to the QMJHL’s First All-Star Team as he finished fourth in league scoring despite playing fewer games than all of the players ahead of him.
The Next Step for Veleno
So, after such a dominant season in the QMJHL, what can we expect from Veleno heading into the 2019-20 campaign? At this point, a spot with the Red Wings is a legitimate possibility, although another centerman may have to be shipped out to make room with Dylan Larkin, Frans Nielsen, Luke Glendening, Jacob de la Rose, and Christoffer Ehn all on the current roster. While Veleno has more potential value than most of those players mentioned, having the 19-year-old playing on the fourth line is not an ideal way for him to develop.
It is unfortunate that the Grand Rapids Griffins saw their season come to an end in the first round of the Calder Cup Playoffs on Sunday. With Veleno’s junior season already over, he likely would have joined the Griffins for their playoff run and get his first taste of hockey at the professional level if they were able to move on. Alas, the Griffins are the probable landing point for Veleno looking ahead to next season (in a role similar to Zadina’s this year). While it would be fantastic for him to crack the NHL lineup on opening day, playing top-line minutes in the American Hockey League is a valid alternative.
Regardless of where he starts the season, the Red Wings should be ecstatic to have a player of his caliber in the organization. The fact that they got him at 30th overall makes his progression sweeter and sweeter. Even if he does not develop into an All-Star at the NHL level, seeing Veleno become a counterpart behind Larkin down the middle of the ice would be a coup for the team. As the Red Wings continue to transition to a youthful core, players like Veleno will be relied upon to speed up the rebuilding process. Pressure has been on Veleno’s shoulders since he was a baby-faced 15-year-old in the QMJHL and eyes will be on him again to help lead the Red Wings back to relevance.