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2018 NHL Entry Draft Prospect Profile: Joe Veleno

Draft the best player available or draft for need? With Veleno, the Stars could do both.

Saint John Sea Dogs v Gatineau Olympiques Photo by Francois Laplante/FreestylePhoto/Getty Images

Name: Joe Veleno

Team: Saint John Sea Dogs / Drummondville Voltigeurs (QMJHL)

Stats: 64 GP, 22 goals, 57 assists, 79 points, 48 PIMs, +4 plus-minus rating

Position: Center

NHL Central Scouting Rank: 8th (North American Skaters)

Comparable NHL player: Alexander Wennberg / Kyle Turris

It’s not always easy living up to high expectations, but it’s especially challenging when those expectations are built around you doing something that no one else has ever done before.

That’s a part of the life that Joe Veleno is living right now, and it’s probably going to be something that’s not going away any time soon.

Veleno wasn’t just a great teenage hockey player growing up in Quebec; he was exceptional. He was so exceptional, in fact, that he was the first player ever to be awarded “exceptional status” for the QMJHL, allowing him to play in the league as a 15-year-old, as opposed to the normal minimum age of 16. No players from the WHL have ever received this distinction, while just four from the OHL have: John Tavares, Aaron Ekblad, Connor McDavid, and Sean Day.

That reputation has followed him around from rink to rink, from profile to profile, and it will probably follow him to the NHL as well when he eventually gets to that point. While he’s likely never going to be the next McDavid or Tavares, he does, however, still have the tools necessary to develop into something special — and maybe even something exceptional — at the sport’s highest level.

There’s no shortage of different elements to like about Veleno’s game, and the things that jump out at you in a good way can change from shift to shift. What stands out the most often though is his puck control, as it’s a regular occurrence to see him assertively guiding the puck around his body like a puppeteer controlling a marionette. With quick, smooth hands and quick, smooth feet, Veleno is able to navigate the rink with ease and poise, while opposing players try to calculate the best possible ways to get the puck away from him.

Veleno can play the game at high speeds if he wants to or if the situation calls for it, such as on an odd man rush up the ice, but he’s at his best and most comfortable slowing the pace down and getting into the cerebral side of the game. A power play maestro, he can orchestrate scoring chances from pretty much anywhere in the offensive zone when he’s on the man advantage, but he is at his most dangerous when he’s lurking in the territory between the blue line and the top of the face-off circles, drawing defenders out of position so that he can create openings for passes or shots. To further illustrate how adept he is at dissecting defenses, his 31 power play assists were the most in the QMJHL in 2017-2018.

He’s at his best on the man advantage, but that’s not to say he can’t contribute at even strength as well. The 6’1” center displays a good work ethic at both ends of the ice, recognizing the finer aspects of his position and just how much attention to detail it takes to win against top competition. He gets to the right areas of the ice, knows which players to cover and keeps his stick active to defend his own zone. It’s no coincidence that Veleno has enjoyed some notable success so far in his young career, which includes helping the Saint John Sea Dogs win the QMJHL title in 2017 and then captaining Canada to a gold medal a few months later at that summer’s Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament.

It’s also possible, however, that all of that success and the ease at which the game seems to come to Veleno have had some negative impacts as well. He is by no means whatsoever a lazy player, but there are times where you’d like to see him go from fourth gear into fifth or to get his hands just a little bit dirtier. Veleno is probably going to do an enormous amount of damage from the perimeter in his career, but there will also be coaches that will get frustrated because he’s not quite hungry enough in important board battles and doesn’t win enough space in front of opposing nets. When the intensity and urgency of a situation ramp up, you want to know that your best players will be ready for the change, and there are still some questions about whether Veleno has that chip on his shoulder in the same way that draft cohorts such as Andrei Svechnikov, Brady Tkachuk, and Joel Farabee do.

Look at the bigger picture, though, and it’s still hard to not come away incredibly impressed with what Veleno brings to the table. In terms of pure, unbridled hockey talent, Veleno is one of the best players in this draft, a prospect with an enormous NHL ceiling. He also might be the best player in this class at the ever-important position of center. In a draft that is uncharacteristically weak up the middle, Veleno will certainly draw a lot of interest from NHL teams and could easily end up going in the first 10 picks.

With regards to the Dallas Stars specifically, you have to wonder just how much interest GM Jim Nill and his staff have in Veleno. The Stars simply don’t have a prospect like him — a finesse forward that can work a power play so effectively — and there won’t be very many of those around in this year’s draft. He genuinely might be the best player available if he’s still on the board at 13th, but if Dallas wants to explore the possibility of moving up a couple of spots through a trade, Veleno makes a whole lot of sense as a potential target to make that kind of move for.