For better or for worse, Joe Veleno has been defined by the exceptional status he was granted at just 15 years old. It was something that gave him an early entry into the QMJHL draft, putting him on the radar of NHL fans very early on.
Exceptional status evokes ... well, exceptional abilities. In the past, it was given to players like Connor McDavid, John Tavares, and Aaron Ekblad who were extremely dominant. These players all ended up being drafted first overall by an NHL team.
It was also awarded to Sean Day, who besides his great skating ability, wasn't even in the same league as the previously mentioned in terms of talent.
Prior to his permission to enter the QMJHL draft, Veleno recorded 52 points in 41 games for the Lac St-Louis Lions in 2014-15. This production alone was not up to the standards of other exceptional status players but what scouts and managers saw in him was not only offensive capabilities that would develop, but a maturity way beyond his years.
And the Saint-John Seadogs, who possessed the number one overall pick in the league at the time, were very keen on the idea of adding the young player.
Birthplace: Montreal, Quebec, Canada
Weight: 194 lbs.
Team: Drummondville Voltigeurs
Veleno immediately started to contribute upon joining the team. He scored in his first game, nothing to diminish the hype, and showed that he could hold his own on the ice against more experienced opponents.
His success was attributed to his great vision of the ice and his understanding of the defensive aspect of the game. Plus, Veleno was already an exceptional skater at the time and had no trouble keeping up with others.
He finished his first season with a respectable 43 points in 62 games. Since then, his production has seen a steady increase and topped at 1.45 point-per-game with the help of Drummondville's supporting cast.
But the question remains, has the forward shown enough in his QMJHL career to prove that he has what it takes to be a top center at the NHL level like he was projected to be a few years ago?
Veleno is responsible defensively, works hard, positions himself well, and could certainly play down the middle at the next level. At 6'1'' and 194 lbs, he has the size to compete against anyone and has already displayed that he’s capable of competing against more capable opponents.
So what’s holding him back from being a top-10 pick? Skills that don't match what is often associated with top NHL centers.
Veleno is one of the more interesting cases in this year’s draft and this very point has been debated a lot since the season began.
What the Voltigeurs forward has is a good shot, great hands and the ability to distribute the puck. He’s accurate in his passes, can thread the needle to his targets and collects assists by doing so. He also consistently looks to get inside the dots in the offensive zone, making him a player to watch.
Veleno wears #90 with Drummondville.
But, contrary to the top prospects in the draft, he isn't a natural goal scorer or very creative. He tends to stick to his marks on the ice.
By that I mean, he’s generally a big proponent of using common-set plays. He’ll frequently slide the puck to the front of the net, especially when he’s near the goal line, and hope for the best. And, with the puck on his stick and time to spare, he seldom displays the ability to create passing lanes or space for others.
When playing with linemates with whom he has good chemistry, this is less of a problem. But if placed in a environment where he has to be the guy and make things happen, it could have a negative impact on his offensive contribution.
Surprisingly, Veleno seems to be better in tight spaces where he executes quickly and has less time to think. He’s very good at protecting the puck and is probably one of the best in the entire draft on his edges.
Watching him cut away from opponents and get very low as to maximize his power, explosiveness and separation, is always extremely impressive. Rare are the junior defenders who can follow him in his abrupt changes of directions.
When Veleno is at the top of his game, he can combine his skating ability with getting his head up, making a move to displace a defender's stick — like faking a shot — and sliding a timely pass across to a teammate.
So, all things considered, consistency might be the biggest issue for Veleno.
It's possible the prospect might still be discovering how he can put his numerous tools together to become the offensive force he could be. He has work to do, but he has a good base of abilities. And on a few occasions per game, he seems like he’s just a few adjustments away from creating highlight-reel plays.
In the above clip, receiving in movement, making only the necessary fake or dangle to beat the defender (not over-handling) and taking a peak at the net to situate himself better before releasing, could have turned a bit of an awkward attempt into a potential great goal.
Rankings (not all rankings are final)
Future Considerations: 15
Hockey Prospect: 23
NHL Central Scouting: 8 (NA skaters)
McKeen's Hockey: 9
ISS Hockey: 10
Whether he figures it out or not remains to be seen, and his role in the NHL will depend on it. But despite his flaws, Veleno remains a pretty sure bet to make the show. The numerous qualities he already possesses will make him a very attractive option on draft day.
On the Habs perspective, the center will surely be gone by the second round. But he could represent a very good option if they were to acquire a mid first-round pick.
Veleno represents an occasion for them to draft some local talent that would bolster their center depth. Following the Montreal-born player in his development would be an exciting perspective, especially if he ends up meeting some of the expectations that were set for him when he received his exceptional status.