Sean Day is exceptional.
In the Canadian Hockey League, the governing body of the OHL, WHL and QMJHL, the league has only allowed five players in the history of Canadian major junior hockey to be granted “exceptional status”, allowing a player to play in the league a year earlier than most. It’s a very unique and exclusive club, with only John Tavares, Aaron Ekblad and Connor McDavid earning the rank beforehand.
In 2013, Day became the fourth player to join the elusive squad when the Mississauga Steelheads drafted him fourth overall in the OHL Draft following a dominant tenure with Detroit Compuware. His hockey roots, however, can’t be traced back to Canada. Born in Belgium in 1998, Day first took part in hockey in the non-traditional hockey market of Singapore, skating on a rink in a local mall. Sean’s Dad, Keith, had to move his family a lot for work, with Sean spending much of his growing up years set in Detroit. Despite that, Sean still considers himself to be a Canadian, and with the threat of him applying for American citizenship if he did indeed miss out on going to the OHL, Canadian hockey fans can be proud about that too.
Unlike the other three exceptional players before him, Day did not find himself going first overall in the draft. In fact, he fell down to fourth overall to the Steelheads, a team desperate to find a major star. During his rookie season, Day didn’t immediately steal all the attention in a positive way. In 60 games as a freshman, the young blue liner only put up 10 points while finishing with a -35 rating. He did play at the Under-17’s for Canada’s Ontario entry, putting up three points in a very impressive tournament for the blue liner. When he was against kids his own age, he proved he was fantastic.
It was unfair to expect him to be a superstar right away, but the six-foot-two, 225-pound defenseman did really improve his game as the year went on. Right off the bat, Day was seeing top minutes with Stefan LeBlanc, and if that was any indication of what he was capable of in the future, it was clear that he had impressed his team enough to give him a similar role in 2014-2015.
His sophomore campaign was, well, a roller coaster. Once again a top choice to patrol the back end, Day scored two goals in Mississauga’s home opener. It seemed like the best possible start for the young defenseman, but as the season continued on, his play started to trail off. His ten goals and 36 points were a steady improvement, but people still wanted more from the guy the team clearly counted on. Maybe it was just because he played on a team that did struggle more than, lets say, Ekblad during his time with the Barrie Colts, but it looked like there was too much pressure for the young guy to hold on to.
It may seem like there’s a lot of negativity towards his play, but Day is simply one of the most talented defensemen heading into the draft. Day, a hard hitting defenseman with great power and speed, Day will take charge on the ice and make plays happen instead of relying on others to help do that. His hands are fantastic, allowing him to make some mind-blowing moves before sending a shot towards the net. An effortless skater, Day transitions between backwards and forwards skating with out losing speed, and he can start and stop faster than you can blink. He still needs to focus on his consistency, as some times he’ll have the best shift of the game, only to follow that up with something you’d see from a house league player.
Day has been one of the more intriguing cases heading into the OHL Draft. With rumors of an eventual trade out of Mississauga, and the belief that he hasn’t lived up to expectations just yet, Day will steal a lot of the spotlight this season. This year will be his third in the Ontario Hockey League, more than any of the first year eligible players in the entire league due to his exceptional status. Surrounding himself around the likes of Michael and Ryan McLeod, Alex Nylander and Nathan Bastian, there’s a ton of exciting prospects on the Steelheads this year that could help build a very strong foundation. It’s his time to lead by example, and if all goes as expected, look for Day to shoot up the rankings and return to the first round projection articles you’ll be seeing all over the internet this year. Whether he’ll end up being a top ten option at the end of the season or he’ll slip out of the first round has still yet to be determined.
Steven is a junior hockey reporter for the Oakville Blades of the Ontario Junior Hockey League, and also focuses on international hockey for his website, TheHockeyHouse.net. You can follow Steven on twitter @StevenEllisNHL.