When Sean Day entered the Ontario Hockey League as an exceptional player at the age of 15, the expectations were huge. He was following in the footsteps of fellow defenceman Aaron Ekblad and forwards John Tavares and Connor McDavid – all surefire stars and No. 1 overall NHL draft picks.
Day, now 18, has yet to reach the promise of greatness many held for him when he was selected fourth overall by the Mississauga Steelheads in the 2013 OHL draft. On Tuesday, Day was traded from Mississauga to the Memorial Cup-host Windsor Spitfires.
“There’s been a lot of criticism,” said Mississauga general manager James Boyd. “I’ve used this terminology before but he’s been a lightning rod for criticism. I think a lot of it is unfair. He’s a talented player … I think when he received exceptional status there was an expectation from observers that he would be the first overall pick and an NHL superstar right away and that hasn’t materialized. He’s still a very good player.
“I think time will tell the kind of professional player that Sean Day turns out to be.”
The deal, which came to fruition late on Tuesday night, sees the Spitfires also get a sixth-round pick in 2016 and a third-round pick in 2019 in exchange for two second-round picks (2017, 2018), a fifth-round pick in 2019 and a third-round pick in 2020
According to Spitfires general manager Warren Rychel, it took a month of “bickering back and forth” with Boyd to get the deal done. It’s hardly a big haul by OHL standards, but with Windsor in the spotlight this season heading towards the Memorial Cup in May, it might be the fresh start Day needs.
“We really feel like there’s a lot of potential, like most people do, that we haven’t seen the best of Sean Day at this level,” said Windsor head coach Rocky Thompson.
“There was a ton of pressure on him being only one of four (OHL) players granted that exceptional status,” Thompson added. “We just want to work with him and make our own judgments based on that. So that’s kind of where we’re at, we’re excited because we know he has potential.”
At last summer’s NHL draft in Buffalo, the native of Rochester, Mich., was taken in the third round by the New York Rangers. Last season, Dan Marr, the director of NHL Central Scouting, said Day possessed exceptional skating, size and strength, but still needed to figure out his on-ice identity.
Boyd said he’s noticed a big difference in the blueliner coming into this season.
“He seems to be much more relaxed this year,” said Boyd. “He’s been drafted. He’s working with an NHL team and the stress of the draft year is long gone. I think the fact that he’s moving closer to home and the fact that Windsor is hosting the Memorial Cup, there’s a lot of excitement there. It’s an excellent situation for him and I think he’ll thrive.”
It’s also a bit of insurance for the Spitfires in the event defenceman Mikhail Sergachev, a first-round pick of the Montreal Canadiens, stays in the NHL with the Habs. Rychel said he believes the 18-year-old Russian will return to Windsor after a stint in the NHL, but said the situation is still fluid.
Day had five points (three goals, two assists) in five games with Mississauga this season. In 183 games with the Steelheads, Day scored 25 goals and added 54 assists for 79 points. Thanks to some fortuitous scheduling, the Spitfires, who play in the OHL’s Western Conference, have already played their two games against the Steelheads this season. Thompson, in his sophomore season as head coach, said those games along with last season and pre-scouting have given him a good idea on what he’s getting with Day.
“We saw a lot of things lacking in his game that could easily be corrected,” said Thompson. “It’s going to be a great opportunity for both sides. His play without the puck was one area that needed to improve (and) his awareness on the ice. I did see a player who was willing to block shots. I saw a player that was competing, but I also saw a player that was positionally out of place and that is something that can be corrected, in my opinion.
“He has great vision, going back for pucks and seeing pucks. I did see a person in the offensive zone that sometimes working the blue line, which in my opinion should be a strength, wasn’t necessarily the case. If you can break out pucks and you can do that under pressure and learn what it is you’re looking for on the offensive blue line you’re going to be able to translate that into offence as well. He has the skill set and the base and the foundation we just want to apply some principles and some structure to his game that is going to take him to the next level.”
And the Spitfires aren’t done dealing yet. According to Rychel, he thinks he has another two or three moves to make before the OHL’s trade deadline – depending on who he gets back from the NHL -- to prepare the best team possible for the Memorial Cup.
“I want to win,” said Rychel. “I don’t just want to be there. I’ve been lucky enough to go to two other tournaments and win, which was great, but this is a whole different beast when you’re hosting it. I want to get the best players I can.”