Steelheads won't rush top pick Day

Sean Day, a15-year-old defenceman from Rochester, Mich., was given exceptional player status, and...

Sean Day, a15-year-old defenceman from Rochester, Mich., was given exceptional player status, and is the Mississauga Steelheads top draft pick. (Dave Abel / Toronto SUN)

DAVE POLLARD, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 2:15 AM ET

MISSISSAUGA - With a hockey stick in his hand, Sean Day is skilled enough to be granted exceptional player status and gain early entry into the Ontario Hockey League.

A golf club? Not so much.

“I’m not very good at golf,” Day admitted, almost sheepishly, following the Mississauga Steelheads golf tournament at BraeBen golf course in Mississauga. “I suck.”

Day’s inability to hit a beautiful 3-iron doesn’t concern Steelheads coach/general manager James Boyd in the slightest. The 15-year-old defenceman from Rochester, Mich., wasn’t given exceptional player status — he’s the fourth to get it after Connor McDavid, Aaron Eckblad and John Tavares — because he’s the next Tiger Woods.

No, Day has been more favourably compared (yes, already) to NHL legend Paul Coffey, a slick-skating blueliner who doesn’t play the game like any other defenceman. Talent on the ice is something Day is not in short supply of, even at such a young age.

But that doesn’t mean the Steelheads will rush Day, taken fourth in the OHL draft this spring, when he starts his first OHL season in the fall.

“His ability is obvious,” Boyd said. “We’re going to be very patient with him. We’re going to put him in positions where he can succeed. This is a long-term thing for us with Sean.

“I think it’s going to be a massive adjustment for him. We’re going to make sure he keeps things in perspective. It usually takes defencemen a little longer (to develop). I hope he’s not putting too much pressure on himself out of the gate.”

Sounds like that’s not going to be the case. Day, who has already signed with the Steelheads and is committed to playing in the OHL, understands his place in history but shrugs off any comparisons to McDavid, Eckblad or Tavares.

“I’m just another person who got drafted,” Day said, adding that he’s aware of the higher standards that go along with being ruled an exceptional player. “I think it’s different in the way that I have a different game than all of them. Eckblad is more of a defensive guy. McDavid is an offensive guy. Tavares is an offensive guy. I’m kind of in a different situation than all three of them.

“(And) I’m only seven days off being a ’97 (birth date, which would have made him automatically eligible for this year’s draft). I have the skill and size to do it but there are no expectations on anything.”

The Steelheads were hit hard by graduation on the back end, with Maple Leafs first-rounder Stuart Percy and San Jose Sharks prospect Dylan DeMelo heading to pro and over-ager Alex Cord too old, so there will be plenty of ice time available for Day, if he’s up to it. His unique skill set also gives Boyd a problem, of the good variety, most coaches don’t have.

“How do you maximize his abilities?” Boyd asked. “We’ll work with him. His skating allows him to get into the play quickly and recover quickly. There will be a process for us trying to figure out where he fits in as well.”

Day appears focused on getting himself ready for training camp — he said there will be no days off this summer — but there is nothing he can do to prepare for his first year away from home, especially at such a young age. But it’s part of the sacrifice he’s willing to make to play hockey at the highest level possible.

“It’s going to be tough moving away from all my friends and family,” he admitted. “Other than that, no (it won’t be tough). Who wouldn’t want to move away to play hockey. This is another step in my life.”

YOUTH MOVEMENT

Don’t use the word “rebuilding” around Steelheads coach/GM James Boyd. He doesn’t want to hear it, even though that’s the reality of the situation.

Earlier this month, goaltender Tyson Teichmann was traded to the Kitchener Rangers and forward Kristoff Kontos was dealt to the Saginaw Spirit. Both were potential over-agers. Another veteran forward could be moved to open up a spot for a youngster.

It’s all part of Boyd’s plan to get younger, a necessary evil after the Steelheads (then Majors) were stripped of youth in the lead-up to hosting the 2011 Memorial Cup.

“Our main goal around here was to recover from hosting the Memorial Cup,” Boyd said. “It really did some damage long-term. We’re trying to recoup our draft picks. Replacing draft picks, building through the draft. It’s the price you pay when you know you’re hosting it.

“We’re in a position now where we have a nucleus of good young players and we’ll build with them. We’ll have a young team but I think we can (be competitive).”

The good news for Boyd is he should be around the see how this youth movement plays out. In early June he signed a contract extension that will keep him with the Steelheads through the 2015-16 season.


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