Although the 2016 NHL Entry Draft remains a few months away, taking place on June 24th and 25th at the First Niagara Center in Buffalo, scouting, and subsequent reporting on players has begun to ramp up in order to ensure each respective franchise selects the player most essential to their future success.
At the current moment, Auston Matthews looks to be a lock at first overall, while star defenseman Jakob Chychrun will undoubtedly push the two fantastic Fins in Jesse Puljujarvi and Patrik Laine for selection in the top three overall. Further within the top ten lie, in all likelihood, Mississauga Steelhead stars Alexander Nylander and Michael McLeod, as well as London Knights teammates Matthew Tkachuk and Olli Juolevi.
However, one notable name largely left out of the coming draft excitement is Sean Day, a defenseman also playing for Mississauga who has, thus far, failed to live up to his incredible, perhaps too lofty expectations.
Exceptional, or Promising?
In case Day’s name sounds familiar, chances are you have heard of the young defenseman before.
Born in Leuven, Belgium, Day’s initial exposure to hockey was certainly unique, first skating on a rink in Singapore before relocating with his parents back to North America, where his game progressed significantly.
As such, Day was granted exceptional status by Hockey Canada, allowing him to enter the Canadian Hockey League one year early, as a 15 year-old. At the time the fourth player to be awarded the exception, Day joined elite company, with John Tavares, Aaron Ekblad and Connor McDavid all receiving permission to begin their Major Junior career’s ahead of schedule.
However, Day’s CHL career did not begin exactly like these current NHL stars, who were all drafted first overall in the Ontario Hockey League draft. In Day’s case, he was a fourth overall selection, with top prospects Travis Konecny and Dylan Strome among those selected prior. It was the first time an ‘exceptional’ player was not selected first overall, leaving many curious as to why the promising blue-liner had slipped in the draft, and whether it was truly worth granting Day the status in the first place.
At the time of applying for exceptional status, Day was fresh off a strong year with his minor-midget team, Detroit Compuware, where he was team Captain, netting 11 goals and 35 points over 63 games. Most importantly, especially to Hockey Canada, was undoubtedly Day’s size. At 15 years of age, Day, stood 6 foot 3 tall and weighed in at 220 pounds. His incredible size, unlike that of his fellow teammates, meant he would be well prepared for the increased physicality of the OHL.
Progression and Stagnation
Although Day’s career was originally marked by steady progression, it has since been marred by stagnation.
In his first full season of OHL play, Day scored six goals and 16 points over 65 games, while carrying an ugly plus/minus of -35. The following season, 2014-15, which normally would have been his rookie season, Day’s play improved offensively, scoring 10 goals and 36 points over 61 games, however his defensive game remained poor, characterized by his -27 rating.
Day quickly began to be seen as the exception of the exceptional, failing to develop as quickly and as strongly as some would have liked.
As a result, once pegged to be a concrete top-5 selection in the 2016 NHL Draft, Day’s stock began to fall, as he simply was not developing into the elite defenseman many once thought he would become. Early 2016 Draft rankings positioned Day as a fringe first round pick, while Central Scouting ranked the young defender as a ‘B’ prospect.
This season, 2015-16, Day had recorded three goals and 14 points over his first 37 games played. Although his offensive production has slipped slightly, in turn, Day’s defensive play has been much improved, having turned his focus to producing a sound defensive game. As a result, Day’s plus/minus has improved drastically, currently sitting at -9, not the best, but not terrible either.
Most recently, Day competed in the BMO Top Prospects Game in Vancouver as a member of Team Cherry. Although his team dropped a 3-2 decision, Day had a strong game, finishing with a plus-1 rating and 2 PIM, while his great rush in the third period was essential in setting up the game tying goal.
Development is the Key
Sean Day has not developed as many thought he would, of this there is no doubt. However, what remains present is the fact that Day retains tremendous skill as a hockey player, and at the age of 18, still has a tremendous amount of time ahead of him to continue developing his game.
Having had to deal with incredible hype, media pressure and scrutiny from a young age, pressure surrounding the coming NHL Draft is nothing new to Day, who has had to endure anything but a normal life as a teenager.
So, will Day be a bust, or a steal in the coming Draft?
Currently projected to a be a second round draft pick, Day could squeak into the first round based on raw skill alone, however, for the team that selects Day, they must realize that he needs time to continue to develop. Day was rushed into the CHL before he was truly ready, so an early introduction to professional hockey would be no different, yet would not necessarily the right move.
As such, if selected in the first round, Day will face a greater chance of being labeled a bust, yet given his immense skills and skating abilities, a late first or even second round selection could see Day named the steal of the draft.
After all, there is a reason why he is often compared to Hall of Fame defenseman Paul Coffey.
Brett Slawson is a four-year veteran of The Hockey Writers who covers the Toronto Maple Leafs, NHL prospects, and the OHL’s Mississauga Steelheads.
Contact Brett on Twitter @brettslawson92, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.