Criticism, warranted or not, only fuels enigmatic Mississauga Steelheads defenseman Sean Day.
Now in his NHL Draft year, the Belgium-born blueliner is out to silence critics and evaluators who have labeled him a bust, despite what he considers a solid performance in the 2014-2015 OHL campaign.
In his sophomore season last year, Day tallied 10 goals and 26 assists in 61 games on a struggling Steelheads team that missed the playoffs with a lackluster 25-40-3 record.
“I came out with a pretty good season,” Day said, trying to make sense of criticism that has pegged him as immature and unfocused. “I felt great about it, but I’m still getting ripped on. You’ve just got to battle through it.”
The product of a globetrotting Canadian family, Day was born in Belgium, learned to play hockey in Singapore and raised in Detroit. Due to his lineage, he holds a Canadian passport.
Day kicked off his major-junior career as the fourth player in OHL history to be granted exception player status to enter the league as a 15-year-old, a distinction previously given to only John Tavares, Aaron Ekblad and Connor McDavid.
He got off to a slow start, scoring six goals and 10 assists as a rookie. Despite the fact that Day made his OHL debut on a weak Steelheads squad, which finished dead last in the OHL’s Central Division that season, the barbs from media critics poured in.
In their eyes, Day had failed to live up to the expectations pressed on “exceptional” players. The 6-foot-3”, 230-pound defenceman took in all in stride.
“If you hear the bad things you can work on that area,” he said. “One of the things I’ve always heard about myself is my defensive game. Last year, I thought I played way better defensively than my rookie season. I took in what everyone was saying about my first season and developed that over the summer.”
In 13 games so far this season, Day has scored three goals and five assists on a rejuvenated Steelheads team, which is looking to advance to the second round of the playoffs for the first time since 2011.
The addition of Swedish-import winger Alex Nylander and the rising stock of Mississauga’s 1998-born contingent has, so far, reignited the franchise.
According to Future Considerations director of scouting Dan Stewart, Day will continue to be a big part of the upcoming junior hockey renaissance in the Greater Toronto Area city. He expects questions from scouts surrounding Day’s work ethic and ability to process the game to become things of the past.
“What does not get questioned is his breathtaking skating ability and high-end offensive game,” Stewart noted. “He should be a big point producer from the back end this season and starts out ranked just outside our first round.”
Mindful of past criticisms, Day enters his third OHL season with a defense-first mentality, but he’s not about to let the offensive elements of his game take a backseat. Much like his role model, Los Angeles Kings defenseman Drew Doughty, he wants to be dependable in the back end, while utilizing his raw talent to contribute up front when he can.
“You want to play defensively but you don’t want to let go of your offensive game,” he explained. “Doughty’s so good defensively but he can always find a way to be up in the rush. I just want to be up in the rush and be able to play up and create a threat so people are looking at me, and giving other people options.”
Once projected to be selected in the first round of the 2016 NHL Draft, Day’s stock has slid over the last few years. He was a surprise cut from Hockey Canada’s U18 squad last summer.
But with the help of a substantially improved Steelheads lineup, he’s hoping to get back in the good graces of scouts and find himself plucked in the first round of one of the most talent-loaded drafts in recent memory.
“From when I was 15 to now, huge improvements,” he said. “This year is huge for me. It’s my NHL Draft year. It’s got to go to the next level, but from my rookie season to now, I feel the stage is higher than what it was and you see that.”