There is no questioning the fact that Sean Day possesses some very elite talent. He is arguably the best skater in his draft class. The tool box is full but at times it looks like he’s using a hand saw instead of a skill saw.
Over the years, I have not always been a big supporter of NHL Central Scouting, and frankly, it appears some NHL teams would rather go their own way as well. Day is ranked 43rd on Central Scouting’s mid-term rankings among North American players. By the time you add in a goaltender or two and Europeans, you are looking at a player ranked in the latter part of the second round.
Will NHL teams see the same thing or will they look at Day as a low risk, very high reward player? Only time will tell. I talked to some of the brightest people covering the Ontario Hockey League and put together their opinions.
John Matisz Sports writer/Editor for the Toronto Sun/Postmedia
Neate Sager contributor at Sportsnet
Grant McCagg Head scout for McKeen’s
Gus Katsaros McKeen’s Hockey Director of Analytics & Pro Scouting email@example.com
OHLW: Personal opinion on exceptional status aside, do you think Day would have benefited more from forgoing exceptional status, say the way Jakob Chychrun did?
While it would be easy to place fault at the decision to accept exceptional status, Sean Day was a beast during his underage draft year and showed the physical maturity, advanced skills and on-ice success to warrant the rare tag. With hindsight to our advantage, maybe he wasn’t quite ready for the psychological pressures accompanying the exceptional status pressures but from an on-ice perspective, he showed he was ready to handle the OHL. – Brendan Ross
Yes. There is always something a player can learn from minor midget. In most any year, the top defencemen in the minor midget age cohort are capable of playing in the OHL and not looking that much out of place. That’s not really what development is about. – Neate Sager
It’s hard to say in the moment, but looking back at it a couple years later – yes, he absolutely would have benefited from forgoing exceptional status. Day and his father have recently had similar comments including that they would have looked into NCAA options as well. When you are blowing out the competition in minors, it’s hard to predict that you won’t do well going into the next level as an underager. Hockey Canada granted him exceptional status for a reason, but if there were any reservations, this process may need to be looked at. Lack of emotional maturity when he entered the OHL has been brought up a couple times and that is important as you are playing with and against 19 & 20-year olds. – Kathryn Jean
That’s a tough question in hindsight. My gut says no. Day was so much bigger and physically mature than the kids he was playing against, so I’m not sure how much he was really learning. Being able to physically overwhelm people is always going to be a natural instinct over outsmarting them. By transitioning early to the OHL, he was forced to finally not be able to rely on his physical gifts, but instead have to improve the way he thinks the game. This is obviously something he still struggles with at times, but I do think it was probably the right decision to apply for that exceptional status. – Brock Otten
That is so hard to say and easy to judge with the benefit of hindsight. As a 15 year old in this league Sean Day did not seem overmatched as some 16 year old 1st round picks are when they enter the league. On top of that he was getting plenty of ice time and playing his trade in games and practice against players older and better then what he would have faced if he had played minor midget or 18U hockey in Michigan. – Peter Knuelman
It’s looking that way I suppose. Obviously there were red flags even early on or he wouldn’t have dropped to fourth in his draft year. – Grant McCagg
There’s a point where players are so above the competition that they aren’t learning much anymore and that was partly the case with Day, dominating at lower levels. I think it’s more about what a player does after the process has played out rather than resting on the laurels of being granted exceptional status. – Gus Katsaros
The thing with the exceptional status rule is that it should be granted to absolute, no-questions-asked home run kids, and no one else. From what I’ve been told by scouts, Day wasn’t a home run when he applied; there was uncertainty. Chychrun was closer to being “exceptional”, however, I’ve spoken to him about the topic and he doesn’t regret not applying. There’s no rush, especially for defencemen. While hindsight is always 20/20, I think Day would have benefited from either not applying altogether or declining the status when he was accepted. – John Matisz
That’s a near impossible question for me to answer. It’s equivalent to asking if the butterfly didn’t flap his wings, would the tornado have happened? Every action triggers an unpredictable sequence of events. Maybe he would have. Maybe it would have been worse. It’s not like we’ve had a ton of exceptional candidates who have opted out to measure him against either. – Corey Pronman
OHLW: One could make the argument that the pressure of being tagged with exceptional status may have affected his performance. How close/far has he been to living up to the expectations?
Given the names and successes of the players who have been granted exceptional status prior to Sean Day (namely, John Tavares, Aaron Ekblad and Connor McDavid), the young defender certainly had big shoes to fill. Despite the legwork and due diligence that Hockey Canada performs with its lengthy exceptional status application process, it was a matter of time that one of these talented kids would fail to live up to the lofty expectations that accompany the tag. There’s no reason to fault Sean for not meeting those expectations. His “failures”, “disappointments” or whatever term you want to apply to his inability to EXCEED expectations (like Tavares, Ekblad and McDavid all did) more so reflect the media’s intense pressures that landed on his shoulders. It’s not as if Day stepped into the OHL and fizzled out in his first year. The big strong, mobile defender stepped into OHL as an underage defenceman (a tough position to play for a player any age) and earned important minutes as a rookie. Since arriving in Mississauga, he’s played in all situations and while he hasn’t necessarily excelled, he has established himself as an OHL player. So, Sean Day hasn’t developed into the go-to stud defender that everyone expected from him but his future still remains bring – as an above-average OHL’er and a professional moving forward. – Brendan Ross
Everyone every day is fighting a battle the rest of the world has no idea about it; I’m sure most people read the recent Damien Cox profile where Day opened up about his closest sibling’s incarceration and his mother’s health challenges. That’s going to weigh on a sensitive 17-year-old whom the hockey world expects to magically turn into a 30-year-old maturation-wise — which some prospects do, to their credit. Day has been pretty far from the hype that was generated, but he was oversold. We should try to extrapolate we would look at him if he had played that minor midget season and entered the OHL in 2014-15 — and Chychrun still goes No. 1 in that hypothetical.– Neate Sager
The exceptional status tag has put more pressure on him and I have no doubt that this affected his performance. The fact he wasn’t selected 1st overall like all the other exceptional players and continued to fall to 4th overall already put scrutiny on him before he stepped onto OHL ice. Exceptional players are looked at with a microscope and with the tag people expect to see a great performance each shift. Instead of being compared to guys like Jakob Chychrun, Mikhail Sergachev, and Olli Juolevi, he’s being compared to John Tavares, Aaron Ekblad and Connor McDavid.
I thought Day had a decent first season considering his age finishing with 16 points in 60 games. He finished the season at -35 but on a struggling Mississauga Steelheads team that had a goal differential of -100 and just squeaked into the playoffs. He earned a spot on the U17, but was cut from the U18 team and didn’t get invited to U20. Since he started, he’s struggled with consistency and discipline at times. He looks more refreshed this season and I expect to see him have a good run with Mississauga down the stretch. – Kathryn Jean
I don’t think that there is any question it has affected his performance. And it depends on what the expectations are/were. If we’re talking about comparing him to the others who have received exceptional status (Tavares, Ekblad, McDavid), then he’s obviously nowhere near the level of play they had reached by their NHL draft seasons. If we’re comparing him to the average top 5 OHL priority selection (and 18 year old kid), then I don’t think he’s that far off where most kids are. – Brock Otten
Well in my opinion he is not the top player in that age group currently playing in the OHL and that is the expectation when one is granted exceptional status. We have been spoiled with Tavares, Ekblad and McDavid and maybe those 3 raised our expectations to unreasonable levels. Just because you are the best player at 14 or 15 doesn’t mean you will be the best player at 17. At the end of the day I would say he is somewhat close in terms of skill but far off in terms of production and putting it all together. – Peter Knuelman
Reaching the high expectations that come with being honoured with an entry to the league in such a fashion is difficult for even the most talented players. Some of that falls on Mississauga though, not having iced the greatest teams in the last couple of seasons prior to 2015-16. I’m not convinced he’s lived up to the hype of being a highly touted prospect, but he’s shown the brief glimpses that made him such a desirable asset for an OHL team. A little hot/cold, but he’s shown more with an improved support cast. – Gus Katsaros
One could argue he shouldn’t have gotten the tab to begin with. The OHL scouts certainly didn’t seem to buy in, he went 4th overall in his class, the only exceptional player in any CHL league to do so. – Corey Pronman
OHLW: There is no questioning the toolbox is full. Some believe the battery that powers the tools isn’t always fully charged. How would you say his work ethic has been, more so this season over past seasons?
Good question and I am glad you asked it because this is where the frustration comes for scouts watching Sean Day. Above, I spoke to the fact that even though Sean hasn’t met the large expectations that previous exceptional players have met, he is an above-average OHL defender. Conversely, I think where most people become frustrated and critical of Day’s game is when they see how gifted his skill set is and can’t comprehend how he isn’t more driven to reach his fullest potential. To be fair to the young defender (who has had some personal challenges off the ice as well), it’s nearly impossible to measure “desire”, “competitiveness” and similar traits. Under what appears to be a lackadaisical approach, Sean Day may actually be extremely driven to become an NHL all-star. Only he will know. But on the surface, it appears he just doesn’t have the desire to challenge himself to really maximize his elite skills. After watching an impressive Sean Day as an exceptional Compuware defender, I was pretty confident that he’d have no problems translating his ability to dominate with end-to-end rushes in the OHL like he did in minor midget. People forgave Day as a rookie and chalked it up to a slow start and him needing time to adjust. Now, years later, we are still witnessing flashes of high-end skill with the occasional end-to-end rush but because of his inconsistency and underwhelming intensity, I think people tend to prefer players who are ready to skate through walls to reach their fullest potential and that’s why he’s getting passed by. His high end skill still exists but until he shows a consistent spark, I think it’s easier to choose players with more drive and impact in their game. – Brendan Ross
His work ethic has not been great in past seasons but this being his draft year he seems to be a lot more focused. Consistency has always been an issue and continues to be, but his talent alone helps keep him in discussions. I think coming out to the media about his personal battles will only help him from this point on. That’s a lot of weight that was lifted off his shoulders considering the fact that most his teammates didn’t even know. – Kathryn Jean
With everything that has come out to the public lately, about the issues with his brother, I think that puts a new perspective on things. He even admitted that his head hasn’t been in every game he’s played, thus explaining the hiatus he took from the Steelheads. Is it a work ethic thing? Or is it a motivation (psychological) or conditioning issue? The NHL combine interview process will be incredibly important for him, as he’ll likely have to convince NHL teams that his passion is to play in the NHL (despite everything that’s gone on the past couple of years). – Brock Otten
Hard to judge players work ethic based on games as it is just a small piece of the puzzle. You have practice, gym time and other factors that go into developing a hockey player. My main qualm with Day would be that his game seems to lack urgency which some may point to a lack of work ethic or drive. One factor in this may be that since Day is such an effortless skater he comes off as a player who may not be putting in 100% effort at all times. – Peter Knuelman
I scout draft eligible players, and really don’t pay much attention to underage players, so I really don’t know how Day played the past few season..Mississauga did not have a lot of draft eligible prospects the last couple of years. He needs to keep improving his work ethic IMO. – Grant McCagg
There are some nights that he can look labored or disinterested on the ice, but that’s subjective and not always fully the case. Sometimes I think that’s more of a one-off perception rather than progressive or accurate, because he can show a relaxed state, while being ready to compete. Players don’t have to always be doing something to show that they are working, the observer sometimes I think expects that. Patrolling a defensive zone and ensuring there aren’t holes, or loose men in the area don’t require a lot of movement, it requires diligence. I think that the ‘effort’ should be replaced by an element of smarts, and Day is clearly a cerebral player above and beyond the strict tools. I don’t think there’s been a big difference in how he’s approached the on-ice work ethic, I can’t comment on the off-ice activity. – Gus Katsaros
OHLW: Day is arguably the best skater in his draft class and has shown world class talent at times. He himself has said that his weight control may be the hardest thing for him. Personally, I don’t see it as having a negative effect. What are your thoughts?
I don’t have the luxury of being behind the scenes to assess his fitness levels, nutritional challenges and other off-ice facets of the game that may trouble players so it’s a tough question to address. With that said, in today’s game with players having access to an infinite amount of fitness, nutrition and supporting resources, I don’t believe it to be an insurmountable challenge. OHL players and aspiring athletes have extensive networks and if players are willing to put in the work, they’ll be surrounded by all the help that’s needed to achieve their goals. – Brendan Ross
If he gets to the NHL level, where a team can make the investment in a nutritionist and dietitian, it wouldn’t be a negative. Generally, though, the lower your body-fat percentage, the easier it is to move on the ice and have the aerobic capacity to recover for your next shift. – Neate Sager
I think his comments on his weight control being an issue stems from him coming in overweight last season. Along with him being late, his weight was a reason he was turned away from U18 team. I can see that extra weight making him a slight step slower which could have also led to his poor play at the U18 camp. – Kathryn Jean
Ask NHL teams if they’d like to have Drew Doughty on their team. How many of them would say no? No question that Doughty wasn’t in the best shape when he played in the OHL, but that’s obviously not the case anymore. We have to remember that these guys are teenagers and learning how to eat/train/maintain is going to have a learning curve. Some kids are just natural gym rats who thrive on being in great shape. Some don’t figure that out until later in their OHL career as they get ready to transition to the pros. Day has already cut some weight and I’m sure he’ll continue to do that. As his conditioning improves, he should be able to take more chances offensively without sacrificing his play/effort at the defensive end. – Brock Otten
It doesn’t seem to have had any negative effect on his play in my opinion. It is worrisome though if it becomes a bigger problem down the line. If he has trouble with his weight now how will he control it in the future? Does this point to an issue with work ethic as discussed in the previous question? Based on his play I would not have been able to tell that he has weight control issues. – Peter Knuelman
Weight control problems are usually a concern for NHL teams..i think it will affect his draft position, because it points to character and leadership issues in addition to weight concerns. – Grant McCagg
He’s going to put on some weight as a pro as well so he’ll have to adapt to a bit of a different body style playing in the professional leagues too. He’ll have to find that optimum weight and then ensure he can operate within that band. I think it will be much worse if he doesn’t get a handle on that after being drafted, however to his benefit, he’ll have support and NHL clubs providing nutrition and lifestyle training. On the grand scale, as long as there’s no adverse effect on the type of skills he brings to the table, I don’t see a major negative here. – Gus Katsaros
I could watch Day skate all day. It amazes me; it looks like he’s floating out there, like his stride doesn’t require an ounce of energy. I don’t know the exact relation between weight and skating, but I would imagine dropping a few pounds wouldn’t hurt. I think everybody, athletes or fans or media, can relate to Day when he says cutting weight is difficult. It’s not easy for anyone. But if he wants to be a world-class athlete, he has to figure it out. There are trainers and nutritionists out there who would gladly take him on as a client. – John Matisz
OHLW: I’ve seen it mentioned that at times Day looks disinterested/bored out there and that he is just too good for the OHL, much like he was too good for Midget and made the early jump to the OHL. What are your thoughts and does he have a legitimate chance to play in the NHL next season?
Not to be a pessimist but playing in the NHL next season won’t be a reasonable option for Sean Day. Making the direct jump to professional hockey is challenging enough for even the two or three drafted prospects each year. In Day’s case, whoever decides to draft him will want to see progression and consistency in his game. He needs to dominate the OHL, show an interest achieving an elite level of play in the OHL and prove that he can handle the challenges that professional hockey will throw at him. – Brendan Ross
As far disinterested/bored goes, people project what they want to see on to a player, and that theory sounds like confirmation bias — ‘he was so good but he’s not performing, ergo, he must be disinterested/bored.’ Now, sometimes gifted players can get frustrated playing with less skilled teammates than they will have at the next level, that’s true, but ultimately successful people in any endeavor find a way.
As far as the NHL next year goes, it’s hard to see that happening. – Neate Sager
I think that’s more of the case when he played in midget. I don’t think he got off to the start he wanted and that with a mixture of off-ice distractions and lack of success may have resulted in him not enjoying hockey. I believe he is a bit of a project player and I don’t see him making an immediate jump to the NHL. I think he still has some things he can work on in junior. While the skills are all there, his consistency continues to be a question. If he returns, he has a great opportunity to be on another contending team unless Michael McLeod, Alex Nylander and Nathan Bastian all make the jump. He also has the chance to make the World Junior team which would make for a great experience before turning pro. – Kathryn Jean
I’d say that’s ridiculous. I’d say he definitely goes through stretches of looking disinterested, but I think we can chalk that up to the issues I touched on earlier (with his brother), and not being above his competition. He still has a ton to learn at this level. He’s no longer on the top powerplay unit for the Steelheads and his offensive decision making often leaves a lot to be desired. I don’t think there is any chance he ends up in the NHL next season. – Brock Otten
I have seen Mississauga play live 5 times year and Sean Day has looked for the most part invisible every time except for when he received a 5 minute boarding Major against Niagara. I’m not sure if he is disinterested or board, again I feel it looks as though his game lacks urgency. He has seemed better since the Christmas break when he had an extended absence from the team. The chance to clear his mind seemed to have done some good.
As for playing in the NHL next year: It is so hard for defencemen to make that jump that I would go out and say there is a 0% chance he makes that jump next year and I don’t think he makes the jump for his 19 year old season either. If he is having troubles with the mental side of the game at the OHL level then he will get buried in the NHL. – Peter Knuelman
I’m not sure why he’d be disinterested. He’s far from being a dominant player this season. I think his chances of playing in the NHL next season are very low….there are question marks about his hockey sense, attitude, competitiveness, vision and offensive upside. Great skating alone won’t get you into the NHL. – Grant McCagg
He’s been a pretty good not amazing OHLer, so not sure I agree with that. He has a ways to go still before he’s a top-tier player in that league. – Corey Pronman
I’ve talked about this with an OHL scout. He said there’s a difference between making being good at hockey look effortless (Joe Thornton) and appearing disinterested (Day). The scout told me to watch a player compete for puck possession along the boards (Is he tentative? Submissive? Does he battle? Does it look like he cares?). Apparently that’s the best way to identify disengagement. At times — in other words, only on certain plays — Day seems disengaged. No, he will not play in the NHL next season. I don’t think that’s on the table at this point. – John Matisz
I’m not sure I buy that he’s bored or too good for the OHL. It’s still quite the leap from the developmental leagues to the OHL, and an exponential jump to the NHL even for exceptional players. Personally, while I think he can earn a spot with a team that drafts him, it’s not as likely that he ends up in the NHL 2016-17 beyond the nine games allowed prior to burning a year off the entry-level contract. Having said that, there’s an exceptional skill set there and sometimes the biggest motivation is someone telling you, ‘you can’t do this.’ – Gus Katsaros
OHLW: If you were running the draft for an NHL team and had multiple first round picks, would you select him in the first round? On the flip side, if you only had one first round pick, would you select him?
I will politely answer ‘no’ to both scenarios. Sean Day certainly owns first round worthy skills and I’ve said that for years now but if I’m putting my name to a first round player, I want to see several key attributes and he’s lacking in one major one. While skill is a major indication of many players selected in the opening round, I think determination and an ability to exceed expectations through an unrelenting work ethic (on and off the ice) is one attribute that I wouldn’t want to budge on. I think you want a player you know will dig down deep and do whatever it takes to win. You want to know that there’s an excellent chance that a first round pick will persist and earn a roster spot regardless of what’s thrown at him. At this point, Day’s biggest question marks are surrounding his work ethic, desire and determination. – Brendan Ross
Depends on the draft slot, but with only one first-rounder, no, since that is the pick a team has to get right. If I had a second, somewhere in the 20s, I would take the home run swing, especially if I had wind of a divisional rival hankering to do the same. – Neate Sager
If he was the best player available, then yes on both questions. I think he will go as high as a late first round pick but there are better defensemen ahead of him. – Kathryn Jean
No (to both). At this point, I don’t think Sean Day is a first round pick. When you factor in his level of play and the concerns over his passion for the game, an NHL scout would be crazy to use a first round pick (in a quality draft year) on him. At this point, I think he’s still a top 100 selection, and will have value as a second or third rounder. – Brock Otten
First off whether a team has 1 first round pick or multiple first round picks it shouldn’t make the selection of Sean Day more or less palatable. Once the other first round picks have been taken they become sunk costs and in no way should affect a team’s justification in drafting Sean Day. At the end of the day it should come down to risk/reward and if the reward of drafting Sean Day outweighs the risks when comparing him to other options at the draft table. As of right now I would not draft him. There is no denying that he has a higher ceiling then those who will be available near the end of round one but his low floor and questions about how likely he is to reach his ceiling would be enough for me to look in another direction. – Peter Knuelman
I don’t think multiple picks would affect my strategy at all. Best player is the best player. As of now, he’s not a first round prospect. – Corey Pronman
No and no. – Grant McCagg
I think this is a difficult question to because it’s likely that if I have multiple picks in the first round, I’m in a spot where I’m rebuilding my club, or have the good fortune of picking up a late first by giving up a valuable asset. His skating is the element that I feel would be the biggest asset in the NHL, especially with the requirement to have a mobile back end. On a personal note, I probably would look at a forward prior to the defenseman in that scenario, however, and then wait for project rearguards in the second round and beyond. With a lone first round pick – likely mid to late in the round – once again, I’d lean towards a forward prior to taking a defenseman, even with the potential that Day exhibits. – Gus Katsaros
I’ve been told by multiple talent evaluators that he’s a first-round talent, no doubt, but there are too many question marks for a team to use a top pick on him. We’ll see what happens between now and June. Don’t be surprised if he is interviewed by every NHL team. I don’t know enough about him or the draft class to peg him in or outside the top 30. – John Matisz
OHLW: Predictions at this stage are virtually impossible to make. Given what you have seen, how do you see his NHL career playing out?
Most people in the hockey world are rooting for Sean Day. I know I am. He’s just too gifted not to warrant being drafted but once his name gets called out, the onus will be on him to earn his NHL spot. Can I guarantee that he’ll become an everyday NHL’er? No. I’ve seen too many talented players bounce between minor leagues. With that said, I think Day’s game is starting to show more signs of life and he’s been playing better since returning to the lineup. The battle is still an uphill one and he’ll be challenged a lot to really show his stuff – maybe more than the average draftee – because people want to see him capitalize on his skill. He has the potential to become a top pairing defender but realistically, I think he’ll comfortably land as a 5/6 defender who can chip in offensively. All eyes will be watching come draft day and it will be very interesting to see who takes a chance on this talented but polarizing blue liner. It only takes one team to like him! – Brendan Ross
He might need some more obstacles and second and third second chances, but he can get there. It might just come at age 22, not age 18 like so many people anticipated. – Neate Sager
I think he has the ceiling to be a top 4 defenseman in the NHL with significant power play time. Another year in junior and perhaps even a year in the AHL will only benefit his game. I think it is important that whichever NHL teams drafts him, does not rush him. – Kathryn Jean
I see a lot of people talk about how high Sean Day’s potential is. Most potential of any defender in the draft is something I’ve seen uttered. I just don’t think I agree with it. That isn’t to say that I don’t see Day as an NHL player: far from it. It’s more that I’m just not sure I see a defender who has significant offensive potential at the next level. Just because a defender is an elite skater doesn’t mean that he has to be (or have the potential to be) a dominant offensive player. There are other skills which have to factor into the equation. I’m just not sure Day is a natural distributor or play creator. He’s at his best when he keeps the game simple, using his skating ability to get the puck out and making a good outlet pass to start the rush. When he starts to push towards the offensive zone, he can be turnover prone in the neutral zone. And his ability to run the point on the powerplay remains a major work in progress (a place where most offensive defenders make their mark). In reality, I see Sean Day developing into a quality NHL defender, but I think it will be more of a stay at home guy; using his mobility and size to play a shutdown role. We saw this at the Top Prospect’s Game this year. When he keeps the game simple, he becomes a very effective player in his own zone. – Brock Otten
I’m an optimist so I would like to think that he gets over whatever has seemed to have stunted his development the last few years and turns the corner with the mental aspect of his game. His skating skills alone give him a heads up on his competition when it comes to a future at the next level. I believe he will find a spot somewhere and with continued development make his mark in the NHL. He may not be the star that people predicted when he received exceptional status but should have a long NHL career ahead of him. – Peter Knuelman
I’m not certain he’ll play in the NHL. I believe he might be be anywhere from a second-pairing defenceman to a bust. – Grant McCagg
Projecting players here is an art. Raw skills can reach potential, or can just as easily fade away without proper development. I’m not convinced he becomes a big impact blueliner at this point, likely settling into a solid second pairing with spot duty on the first unit power play or a solid second unit. If I had to make a certain projection, I’d lean towards the second pairing and second power play unit and rank him in our lists accordingly. – Gus Katsaros