The thing about being granted exceptional player status is people expect immediate exceptional results.
For Sean Day, those results did not materialize last season.
Day, who was born in Belgium, played most of his minor hockey in Michigan and is a Canadian citizen, scored six goals and had 10 points in 60 games with the Mississauga Steelheads. He was a chilly minus-35.
Day was the fourth player awarded exceptional status — which allows a player to enter the OHL draft before reaching the minimum age of 16 — following John Tavares (2005), Aaron Eckblad (2011) and Connor McDavid (2012), but the first not to be chosen first not to be chosen first overall in the Ontario Hockey League's Priority Selection.
Day slipped to fourth overall, chosen by Mississauga behind Travis Konecny (Ottawa 67's), Dylan Strome (Erie Otters) and Matthew Spencer (Peterborough Petes).
So you might think at the ripe old age of 16, Day is feeling pressure to have a breakout year.
"Not at all," said the six-foot-two, 225-pound defenceman. "I still have another season before my draft year. I think it's good for me that I played in the league last year and to still have this season to work on my game before my draft year."
When Day first joined the Steelheads he played the way he did in minor hockey, which was to get the puck and take off with it. He was always bigger, stronger and faster than the majority of his opponents. Suddenly up against older players who were just as big and quick, Day found himself overmatched and his mistakes often ended up in the back of his team's goal.
So when he returned to the Steelheads after participating with Team Ontario at the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge, Day dialled back on his offence and started concentrating on being a more competent defensive player.
Mississauga coach-GM James Boyd was impressed with Day's development. Boyd said the Steelheads traded their top two scorers at mid-season and thus did not score as often, so Day was given more defensive responsibility and reacted favourably.
"His plus-minus improved dramatically and that was with his ice time going up," Boyd said. "In the playoffs against a really good Oshawa team he played extremely well. There were times during the year I would scout a minor midget game in the evening and I just couldn't imagine Sean playing at that level. I couldn't picture him with his peers. I think it was a very good decision for him to play in the OHL."
One problem with playing three years in the OHL before being eligible for the NHL Entry Draft is scouts have lots of time to dissect your game. In Day's case, some scouts have questioned his hockey sense.
Boyd is not only convinced Day will improve his decision making with experience, he believes Day is well on his way to becoming an impact player. Boyd said critics of Day should understand that when he joined the Steelheads, he basically had to learn the defensive game from scratch and there was steady improvement in his game.
Boyd said Day will play in the Steelheads top four on the blue-line this season and will get plenty of time on special teams as well.
"This year Sean has really embraced the physical part of the game," Boyd said. "He's a big guy — really big guy — who skates extremely well and he has been finishing his checks. He is a lot more constant and assertive defensively."
Day is a quiet kid who does not seek attention and takes things in stride. Asked about not being the first overall pick in 2013, Day suggested the teams that drafted ahead of Mississauga may not have needed a defenceman or perhaps they didn't like his game. No big deal, really. And how exactly did a 15-year-old fit in with his older teammates?
"I never really thought of myself as being younger than everyone and I don't feel they treated me differently," Day said. "I came into the league thinking I was a rookie like every other rookie. I didn't use my age as an excuse if I made a mistake."
Taking a more assertive role on the Steelheads, Day is excited for his sophomore season.
"Hopefully I can get more points, but still be a defensive threat," Day said.
Sounds like an exceptional plan.