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Joseph Veleno didn't deserve exceptional status

I won’t blame you if you read the headline and thought, “Who is Joseph Veleno?” Anyone who isn’t a big hockey fan, and even if you are one but don’t follow junior hockey you still might not know who Joseph Veleno is.

I won’t blame you if you read the headline and thought, “Who is Joseph Veleno?” Anyone who isn’t a big hockey fan, and even if you are one but don’t follow junior hockey you still might not know who Joseph Veleno is.

Veleno is the latest 15 year old to be granted “exceptional status” in the Canadian Hockey League. Yes, he was born in 2000 and I feel exceptionally old.

Playing for the Lac St-Louis Lions in the Quebec Midget AAA league, the Kirkland, Que. native recorded 16 goals and 36 assists in 41 games. Not the most eye-popping numbers, but he was the youngest regular on the team. In fact, he wasn’t even first in scoring on his team. That honour went to Ryan Brushett who turns 17 Sunday and is already committed to Providence College for the 2017-18 season.

Veleno’s size doesn’t blow you away at 6’ 170-pounds, but according to reports it’s his on-ice vision and explosive skating that sets him apart from others.
Sets him apart, not what makes him exceptional. Combine that with the fact the Lions have an alleged history of inflating stats, I.E. adding assists to goals that don’t belong, you have to wonder how many points Veleno actually recorded last season.

In the beginning of May, it was reported Veleno was officially going to apply for exceptional status. Through previous conversations I’d had with CHL President David Branch and New York Islanders forward John Tavares, I’ve learned the process to apply for exceptional status involves interviews, personality tests, reviewing their support system, hockey abilities and writing an essay on why the player feels they deserve exceptional status.

However, there was an apparent deadline set by Hockey Canada for Feb. 15 on players looking to apply for exceptional status. End of story, right? It looked that way May 9 when tweets were sent out saying Veleno was denied entry to the 2015 QMJHL draft.

Things changed three weeks later when it was reported that Hockey Canada was looking at the possibility of reconsidering Veleno’s application. Then, June 4 it was announced that Veleno was indeed granted exceptional status and was drafted first overall into the QMJHL by the St. John’s Sea Dogs.

There was some speculation that once it was announced the Sea Dogs had won the draft lottery (with a pick they acquired from Drummondville), Veleno’s camp appealed the decision not to receive exceptional status. Why? Well, would you rather play (or send your kid, for that matter) in St. John’s, Nfld., the largest city in the province, or Bathurst, N.B., a city with a third of the population of St. John’s? Not to mention the Sea Dogs have had success as a franchise in recent years as well as with players graduating to the NHL.

There’s also some speculation the CHL wanted a big name in the league a year early, instead of having Veleno play at Shattuck’s St. Mary’s prep school in Minnesota. That’s where Sidney Crosby played before being drafted in the QMJHL.

Either way, I truly believe it was the wrong decision to allow Veleno to play in the QMJHL this coming season. When you compare him to the other four players who have received the honour of playing in the CHL a year early, he doesn’t stack up.

John Tavares was the first player to receive it after scoring 158 points in 72 midget-AAA games. Ninety-one of those points were goals. He also suited up for 20 junior ‘A’ games with the Milton Icehawks, and scored 28 points against kids as much as seven years older than him.

We all know how Tavares’ story went, first overall in the OHL, broke Wayne Gretzky’s goal scoring record as a 16 year old then drafted first overall in the NHL.

The second player to receive exceptional status was Aaron Ekblad. At 14 years old, Ekblad scored 14 goals and added 53 assists in 62 games with the Sun County Panthers. Keep in mind he’s a defenseman. Oh, did I mention he was also 6’4’’ and over 200-pounds at the age of 14? That’s pretty important.

Sure enough, Ekblad was drafted first overall in the OHL, won rookie of the year then defenseman of the year in 2014 before being drafted first overall by the Florida Panthers in last year’s NHL draft. He then had one of the best seasons by an 18-year-old defenseman in decades, posting 39 points in 81 games.

Third was Connor McDavid. Every hockey fan and their dog has heard of Connor McDavid by now, but let me just tell you why he was granted exceptional status. Two hundred and nine points in 88 games as a 14/15 year old speaks for itself.

The fourth player was the most controversial, up until Veleno. Sean Day is a smooth skating, big-bodied blue liner who played his entire minor hockey career in the States. While his midget numbers weren’t all that impressive with 35 points in 60 games, his size at 6’2’’ and 220-pounds as a 15 year old set him apart from his peers. Day also broke the trend of players granted exceptional status going first overall in their drafts, as the Mississauga Steelheads picked him up fourth overall. He also won’t be drafted first overall into the NHL next season, unlike Tavares, Ekblad and McDavid.

Day hasn’t impressed too much in the OHL so far, outside of his skating. He recorded 16 points in 60 games his rookie year, followed by 36 points in 61 games this past season. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him post more than 60 this upcoming year.

While Day might have been in the same boat as Veleno when it comes to a questionable exceptional status player, the fact remains Veleno does not come close to the skill level the other three players showed.

Depending on how he plays next year, I wonder if Humboldt's Logan Barlage will get any consideration for exceptional status into the WHL for the 2016-17 season. He posted 62 points in 31 Bantam AA games last year, but during the 2013-14 season he posted an outrageous 452 points in 88 regular season and playoff games for his peewee leagues. He's listed at 6'3'' and 185-pounds, and just turned 14 in January.

I will happily eat my words if Veleno steps into the Sea Dogs lineup next season and posts a point-per-game en route to the QMJHL rookie of the year award.

I just have an inkling that won’t happen.