Sean Day is one of the more fascinating prospects available for the 2016 NHL draft. A Canadian who didn’t live in the country until he was drafted by the OHL’s Mississauga Steelheads, Day was the first player to be granted “exceptional status” by Hockey Canada who did not go on to be drafted first overall in the OHL. Now, he has been cut by the Canadian national team’s under-18 squad, which will compete in the Ivan Hlinka summer tournament in Slovakia and the Czech Republic.
And some hockey folks are raising some interesting points about the defenseman.
Former NHLer Matthew Barnaby, who is now entrenched in the world of elite minor hockey, had this to say on Twitter after the cut:
The day Sean Day was granted status he was arguably the 4th best 98 D. This was a battle between US and Canada.
— Matthew Barnaby (@MattBarnaby3636) August 5, 2015
Born in Belgium, Day also spent part of his youth in Singapore before moving to the suburbs of Detroit. But his family is originally Canadian and that’s how he identifies. Brett Hull famously played for Team USA internationally after he was snubbed by his birth nation and USA Hockey could have gone after Day, too.
Though Day’s father told our Ken Campbell back in 2013 that the family had never thought about it, Hockey Canada couldn’t be faulted for chasing the young blueliner.
Because in the increasingly global world we live in, elite hockey players are being confronted with these choices. Jakob Chychrun, a top-three prospect for the 2016 draft, chose the OHL and Canada despite being born and raised in Florida (and would have played at the Ivan Hlinka if not for an injury). Logan Brown, born in St. Louis, did the same (he was another surprise big-name cut). On the other side of the ledger, dual citizens Michael Campoli and Dylan St. Cyr (Manon Rheaume’s son) have all tossed their lot in with the U.S. National Team Development Program.
So should Day have been granted exceptional status in the first place? His name is officially in the record books alongside John Tavares, Aaron Ekblad, Connor McDavid and 2015 recipient Joseph Veleno in that category and the other four players all went first overall in their respective drafts (Veleno in the QMJHL; the other three in the OHL). Day, on the other hand, went fourth in the 2013 OHL draft behind Travis Konecny, Dylan Strome and Matthew Spencer – himself a defenseman.
But technically, exceptional status is granted on the measure of whether a player is ready to enter major junior as a 15-year-old, not whether they will be taken first overall. And while Day wasn’t a star in his first year with the Steelheads, he was by no means a flop, either. Playing on a bad Mississauga team with few NHL draft picks, Day finished second in blueline scoring. Last season as a sophomore, on a team with virtually the same record, he finished sixth overall in team scoring, upping his contributions from 16 points to 36.
If you compare him to Ekblad, the only other defenseman to get exceptional status, Day obviously comes in second. Ekblad played on much better Barrie Colts editions, though they were partially better because of the future Calder Trophy winner.
But Day can only go out and be the best player that he is, weight of expectations be damned. He’s an incredible skater with an enviable 6-foot-2, 229-pound frame. His major weakness right now concerns his hockey sense, which one NHL scout told me was “just average.”
In the intersquad games that led to the Ivan Hlinka cut, you could see Day get out of trouble thanks to his feet and big frame, but I can understand if Canada’s coaches were concerned with the ways he got into trouble in the first place.
Thankfully, Day is still in the early stages of his career and traditionally, defenseman take longer to develop anyway. He will certainly still be an intriguing NHL prospect this season and were it not for his back story, being cut from what will likely be the gold medal squad at the Ivan Hlinka tourney wouldn’t be such a big story. Other blueliners were better at the camp, it’s as simple as that.
It’s not his fault if hockey powers may be planting their flags in kids like so many mountain-tops lately.