ColoradoAvalanche.com is profiling draft-eligible prospects leading up to the 2018 NHL Draft in Dallas on June 22-23. Joseph Veleno is the No. 8-ranked North American skater in NHL Central Scouting's final rankings. The Avalanche has the 16th overall selection at the draft.
Joseph Veleno's NHL career has been discussed since he earned exceptional status in 2015 by the Canadian Hockey League, which allowed him to enter the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League a year early. Adding to the pressure of the status, which only four players had garnered before (including NHL stars Connor McDavid, John Tavares, and Aaron Ekblad), Veleno was taken first overall in the QMJHL Draft in 2015.
"Obviously, there are a lot of expectations that come with it," Veleno told NHL.com of his exceptional player position. "I'm just focusing on what I have to do and my expectations. For sure, there's a lot of pride and expectations getting the exceptional status and being the first one in the (QMJHL)."
Veleno played well in the two-and-a-half seasons he spent with the Saint John's Sea Dogs, consistently raising his points per game, but he became a player deserving of the title after he was traded to the Drummondville Voltigeurs for the second half of the 2017-18 season.
"I wasn't worried about my production in Saint John," Veleno wrote in a diary for NHL.com. "I knew the points would come. No matter what happened, I kept on working hard and didn't get frustrated; I stayed positive. Certainly, playing in Drummondville and playing with really good players in a good system with good coaches, that helped me a lot."
After putting up 31 points (six goals, 25 assists) in 31 games for St. John's in the first half of the 2017-18 season, Veleno kicked his play into high gear for the Voltigeurs, scoring 16 goals and adding 32 helpers (48 points) in 33 outings with Drummondville. He also recorded 11 points (five goals, six assists) in 10 playoff games.
"His hockey sense just stands out like a sore thumb," said Dan Marr, NHL Director of Central Scouting, to NHL.com. "The vision and the poise and the composure… He plays like a veteran out there. But he doesn't have swag. He has savviness to his game. He's got that finesse and that touch when you need it, but he also has that inner drive and compete that stands out in a game where he's not going to be denied on the play."
Video: Joseph Veleno Scouting Report
Veleno is now trying to prove that he is more than the player that earned exceptional status in 2015, but it can be hard to outplay that kind of hype.
"You're on the pedestal. You're in the limelight. You're in the spotlight," said Marr. "Every game you're expected to put on a show. In the scouting fraternity, you don't go into games with those expectations. Just because you're good at 15 doesn't mean you're going to be good or great at 18. We'll just see how it plays out.
"But, you don't get exceptional status by accident either. He's well-deserving of the title he has. Last year, he looked like he played in the league for two years already. He looked like a veteran out there."
It is unlikely Veleno goes first overall in the NHL Draft like three of the previous four players to earn exceptional status, but he is in no rush to live up to those expectations either.
"Tavares, McDavid … they're incredible players," Veleno said to NHL.com. "They're exceptional. They're in another class right now. I'm still working. I'm not there. I have a lot of work to do. They're two phenomenal players. They've proven it in juniors and every league they've played in. I'm trying to model my game after those guys and trying to do the things they did. I just have to keep working hard, and hopefully I can become like them one day."
For now, Veleno can only wait and see where he is selected and continue the work that earned him exceptional player status and made him a top prospect in the upcoming NHL Draft. The center will continue to be mentioned with the others to earn the status and time will tell if he will live up to his title as an exceptional player.