There’s Nathan MacKinnon in 2013, (arguably) Sam Reinhart in 2014, and Connor McDavid in 2015. NHL Draft gurus have had the next three years of the annual June draft’s prime pick mapped out months ago despite tons of hockey still to be played.
More recently, draft followers have begun to debate which 14-year-old in Alberta’s Tyler Benson or Ontario’s Sean Day could be the preliminary pick in the 2016 NHL Draft. With hype building and the chance to see Day’s Detroit Compuware team in person I went to see what the hype was all about.
Is Sean Day a future NHL superstar?
With everyone trying to find the “next big thing” in every major sport nowadays, I went into my first viewing of the Canadian defenseman skeptical. My thought was North American junior hockey followers have seen what Aaron Ekblad and Connor McDavid have done at 14-years-old and are now expecting there to a generational game changer every year.
That said, after watching Day this past week, draft fans who feel the need to project first overall picks for years to come have a legitimate argument for believing the 14-year-old could be the preliminary pick for the 2016 NHL Draft.
The first thing that stands out about Day is his size. He’s listed at six-foot-two and 194 pounds, but up close I wondered if this was outdated. It is always tough to tell weight, but I would argue Day is more in the six-foot-three or six-foot-four range—size all fourteen-year-old athletes would do countless things to have.
Upon further inspection, a kid who has been blessed with his size at that young should not be able to skate the way he does. Day has one of the most fluid strides I have seen and makes skating appear almost effortless.
He plays the game at a different speed than the fifteen and sixteen-year-olds that line up beside him and is able to beat anyone anywhere on the ice without appearing to really be trying. His first couple of strides also set him apart on the ice as he has the ability to match a player’s speed going either forwards or backwards.
When hearing what fellow scouts had to say about Day, one aspect of his game that was left out was his attitude towards physical play. He loved to step up and deliver a hit to cause a turnover and eliminate a scoring chance.
Even more impressive was his ability to deal with contact when carrying the puck to make a play. There were instances during the game in which he would welcome a neutral zone hit and be able to escape the check by either powering his way through the fore checker or move the puck to a teammate and make sure the fore checker cleanly received the worst end of the hit.
A lot of this does go back to his skating ability and balance, but the mental aspect of physical play was impressive to say the least.
Along the same line of the mental game, Day makes smart decisions more often than not with the puck. From finding the open man in the neutral zone to deciding when to skate the puck out of the zone or to pass it to begin the breakout, Day has poise with the puck that few midget-aged players display.
I do believe his mental game is where he may have some growing pains at the next level. There was several instances Day made risky decisions to pinch to attempt to keep the play alive in the offensive zone. The decision sometimes backfired, but only until Day was able to make up for it by using his speed to back check and catch up to the play going into the team’s defensive zone. Obviously against faster competition these mistakes will become amplified.
In the defensive end, his board play is also exceptional. When battling against a forward along the wall, more often than not a turnover would ensue and Compuware would be going the other way. While I did not record him having any points, Day’s ability to create turnovers and get the puck going the other way lead to odd man opportunities that ended up as goals.
Skeptics, like with any player, could argue Day has developed at a much quicker pace than fellow 1998 birth years and it is only a matter of time before he falls back to earth, but I do not see it. Sean Day is simply too gifted in nearly every area of his game to be one of those players we all remember growing up with who peaked early.
The Compuware U16 team has graduated the likes of blueliners James Wisniewski and Jack Johnson in addition to more recent alumni such as Jacob Trouba and Pat Sieloff directly into juniors. There’s little doubt in my mind Sean Day will be the next and will be playing in the Ontario Hockey League this fall.
Sean Day, at all of 14-years and 11-months old, is the real deal.