by David Dickenson
In a year muddied where 10-15 players are in the mix for the first five spots in the 2013 Ontario Hockey League (OHL) Priority Selection, the picture just got a little murkier.
The OHL announced Thursday, March 21, Hockey Canada had made Canadian-born defenceman Sean Day of the Detroit Compuware AAA Under-16 hockey club the fourth player to receive “Exceptional Player Status” in order to enter the April 6 draft for 16-year olds, a year early.
As a 98-born player on a team primarily of 97-borns, Day not only showed he belonged with his older teammates, but that he excelled as he quickly amassed 11 goals and 24 assists for 35 points in 63 games. He also sported an impressive +47 rating in plus/minus on the season.
A large part of the reasoning for his inclusion in the special provision to enter the league early is the young blueliners combination of size and skating, where a number of scouts and pundits have compared the youngsters ability on his blades to that of one of the best skaters the game has ever seen in Paul Coffey.
At a towering 6’2” 197 lbs., Day has impressed many throughout the season during his regular Compuware schedule, as well as the team’s play in several Ontario minor midget hockey tournaments this season, such as the famed Whitby Silver Stick tournament, where they fell just short of the title to a very strong Toronto Marlboros squad.
In addition to his skilled work on the ice, during the 2012 summer, he showed his skills also translated onto roller blades as he helped the Detroit Honeybaked capture the 2012 North American Bantam Roller Hockey Championship.
The Hockey Canada performance included a Special Evaluation Panel assembled to evaluate Day’s hockey and academic documentation as well as assess his level of maturity, in order to ensure he would be able to not only meet the rigors of playing against other players as old as 21 next year, but also ensure he was mentally prepared for the big jump to major junior hockey, where he would be living away from home with a billet and subject to a very hectic schedule of school, hockey and numerous other team obligations such as charity work, and requests from the media.
Day, who was born in Leuven, Belgium, but has lived in various places due to his parents employment, currently resides in the Detroit area (Rochester, MI), but considers his home to be the Burlington area, and has his sights set on wearing the Red and White of Canada in future international competitions. He’s a Canadian citizen, and throughout the process and attention from it, has always been quick to state his nationality and dispel any thoughts of playing for another country internationally in the future.
Day, now becomes the fourth player to be granted “Exceptional Player Status” by Hockey Canada, joining the likes of ready-made stars such as Connor McDavid (Toronto Marlboros) of the Erie Otters, Aaron Ekblad (Sun County Panthers) of the Barrie Colts and John Tavares (Toronto Marlboros) of the New York Islanders.
Day, is only the second defenceman to receive the distinguished honour joining Ekblad, who is widely thought of as a favourite to be a top-3 pick in the 2014 NHL Entry draft. According to some scouts, Day is already further along in his development than Ekblad at the same age and may have the potential to be a bigger star then the hulking blueliner.
Tavares, who was the first person to receive “exceptional player status” has proved to be a NHL star since being selected first overall in the 2009 NHL entry draft, while the other “exceptional status” player McDavid is not only thought to be the surefire first overall pick in the 2015 NHL draft, but also being mentioned in the same breath of another generational talent… Sidney Crosby.
He has big shoes to fill, after earning the honour, but if Hockey Canada has shown us anything previously with their handing out of the distinction, they would not have done so if they didn’t feel it was unwarranted.
Where will Day end up? Maybe not Ottawa
With the OHL draft only a couple weeks away, the location of where Day will be living and playing next year has yet to be established.
The disappointing Ottawa 67’s finished last in the league last year with a 16-46-0-6 record for 38 points to secure the first overall selection, but that may not end up Day’s location, after reports have surfaced the team has already become enamoured with another, forward Travis Konecny of the Elgin Middlesex Chiefs.
Ottawa has not had the first overall pick in the draft since 1993, when they selected Alyn McCauley. With the 67’s reputation of reloading rather than rebuilding, out the window for the first time in more than a decade, the team knows they need to make a splash this year, after the poor season also saw poor attendance with the team being forced to play in the Ottawa suburb of Kanata, as the Ottawa Civic Centre is being renovated as part of the city’s massive Landsdowne Park revitalization project.
While it’s been unprecedented in the past for an “exceptional status player” not to go first overall in the OHL draft, newspaper reports and scuttlebutt around rinks and arenas point just to that fact, after in impressive showing in the 2013 OHL Cup, which saw Konecny, score three goals and eight assists for 11 points to finish second in tournament scoring.
Ottawa has long thought to have liked the Chatham-Kent area (Clachan, ON) resident and his showing at the OHL cup seems to have cemented Konecny as their choice, despite having the option to select Day, who is not only a year younger, but also stands the likelihood of playing for the team longer than any other players up for the first overall slot.
Konecny, is a bundle-full of skill himself, excelling at the offensive side of the game, while also bringing a nice edgy hard-hitting style of play, despite his less than massive 5’10” 170 lbs. stature.
Before Day’s application and emergence into the picture, Konecny has been bandied about as a top-5 selection in the draft and stood a strong likelihood of going first overall depending on need. Now with that being the case, the Taylor Hall-lite clone should be set to see some big ice time up front next season for the 67’s as history is made and for the first time an “exceptional status player” is not picked first overall in the draft.
Despite the supposed knock to Day’s reputation, that he will not go first overall, the style of Konecny is more the reasoning of the selection than anything, as he fits the bill perfectly to what 67’s Head Coach and General Manager Chris Byrne likes from his teams. Byrne has long been a proponent of a big defence and speedy, aggressive forwards who he allows leeway to take chances offensively and try to put points on the board, while Day would also fit into the plans, in a year with a draft chalk full of large skilled blueliners and few offensive dynamos, especially one with the grit and tenacity of Konecny, it’s understandable why the team has become enamoured.
The thought of pairing rookie offensive standout Dante Salituro with Konecny should create some excitement in Ottawa next season, as long as they can add some size on their off-wing to give the two buzz saws room to work.
Otters go “exceptional” again???
With Konecny, all but announced as the first overall selection, the Erie Otters, hot off of drafting “exceptional status player” Connor McDavid last year are on the clock and have the option to make a steal of a choice and take Day second overall.
Erie however may not be as quick to jump on the hulking young blue liner people may think as word all season has been how much they are excited about two other players in the draft… forward Dylan Strome of the Toronto Marlboros and defenceman Zach Werenski of the Detroit Little Caesars AAA Under-18 hockey club.
The supposed feeling in Erie all season, has been Werenski, who excelled playing major midget hockey all year in the Detroit-area was not that far behind McDavid last year skill wise and he too may have been a consideration for “exceptional status” if not for the immense skill of McDavid.
Werenski had seven goals and 14 assists for 21 points in 28 games this season for the Little Caesars squad, while was made up of players 1-2 years older than himself.
The 6’2” Werenski, not only showed above average offensive tools all season, but also was a presence everywhere on the ice and scouts were drooling at the Cam Fowler-eque comparisons being whispered about all season.
On the other hand, Erie also has a lot of interest in New York Islanders prospect Ryan Strome’s younger brother Dylan, who is thought to possess the same star power his brother brings to the table. He’s 6’2” and while only average speed on his skates, he possesses elite vision and passing abilities to make teammates better as well as a potent shot to put the puck in the net on his own. His game has some of the same elements of Tavares, which the Otters are enamoured with the idea of pairing him with McDavid on the team’s top line or on power plays.
Erie, seems about 50-50 on their selection, whether they’d actually select Day or whether they’d stick to their previous notion of Werenski or Strome. A lot of the feeling so far is that if US National Team Development Program Under-17 team invitee, Werenski, were to tell them he’d report, he’d be their choice and Day again would be left to drift in the wind in what could be an even more embarrassing situation for the league and it’s young future star.
Without Werenski in the mix, scouts talking seem hit and miss on whether the team would then select Day or Strome with the choice.
Draft him already for Petes’ sake
The troublesome season of the Peterborough Petes has been well documented this season, as poor management, bad attitudes and and a supposed uneasiness from player agents to see their clients end up with the team, has marred the once proud franchise’s reputation.
The team last year selected Eric Cornel, who had a rough rookie season, and stud prospect Nick Ritchie dealt with injury woes in the early going as things came unraveled for the Petes, where the team fired its’ GM Dave Reid six games into the season after, years of good drafting, but poor one sided trades, led to the breaking point, where then captain Slater Koekkoek called out the team for it’s negative attitude and poor situation the coaches had been put into by management.
Since that point, the Petes traded Koekkoek to Windsor for a good haul of draft picks, hired Mike Oke as its general manager and gave former NHLer Jody Hull the reigns as the team’s head coach.
While the team seemed to find it’s way around the end of the season, much to the credit of Hull, a lot of rumours around the rink, have player agents reluctant to let their clients end up playing for the Petes. Before the notion of Day being admitted to the draft and then potentially falling this far, Peterborough has long thought to like Strome and Oakville Rangers defenceman Matt Spencer, who is often compared to Ottawa Senators prospect Cody Ceci in style of play.
Both Spencer and Strome are rumoured to be among the group of players, whose agents or advisors have expressed concern about young players joining the Petes organization, however there is no proof to back up the whispers around the rinks.
All that being said, Day seems the logical choice here either way and with no real concerns as to where he ends up the drama should finally come to an end here at worst and a lot of fuel will be added to the fire for future matchups against both the Otters and 67’s for Day.
With little actually decided about the picks for the 2013 draft, the one certainty is the excitement it will create for fans of the league as for the first time in a number of years uncertainty rules the roost.