Skip to Main Content

Big future ahead for Joseph Veleno

'Exceptional status' center, 16, already being listed among top prospects for 2018 NHL Draft

by Aaron Vickers / Correspondent

A year has passed, but the expectations for Joseph Veleno remain the same, meaning exceptional things still are anticipated. 

But the now 16-year-old center from Kirkland, Quebec, is more focused on what he expects of himself, and not the pressures placed on him after being becoming the first player from Quebec to be granted exceptional status by Hockey Canada to play as a 15-year-old in major junior hockey last June.

"I think it's kind of special," Veleno said. "Obviously, there are a lot of expectations that come with it. 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]. I think it's going well so far. I'm looking forward to the next couple of years."

Veleno (6-foot, 181 pounds) clearly understands his next few seasons will be accompanied by intense scrutiny. The only other forwards to be granted exceptional status and play in the Canadian Hockey League at 15 were John Tavares and Connor McDavid, each in the Ontario Hockey League. Defensemen Aaron Ekblad and Sean Day earned early entry to the OHL too. 

Tavares (New York Islanders), McDavid (Edmonton Oilers) and Ekblad (Florida Panthers) each has made a significant mark in the NHL, and Day was selected in the third round (No. 81) by the New York Rangers in the 2016 NHL Draft.

"Tavares, McDavid … they're incredible players," Veleno said. "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."

That work already has begun and Veleno, who will be eligible for the 2018 draft, is living up to the early billing.

"You're on the pedestal. You're in the limelight. You're in the spotlight," said Dan Marr, NHL Director of Central Scouting. "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.

"His hockey sense just stands out like a sore thumb. 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. 

"If he doesn't get it on the first try, he's going to find a way to get it done the second time."

It was that type of scouting report that led to Veleno being selected with the first pick in the 2015 QMJHL Entry Draft by Saint John. Those skills allowed him to finish his rookie season with 43 points (13 goals, 30 assists), 10th in the league scoring among first-year skaters.

That was while battling early expectations, and being the league's youngest player, too.

"When I first got to Saint John and stepped on the ice, you're a little smaller than everyone," he said. "I was kind of shy and I didn't really fit in like the other guys. My teammates, with the support from them and the coaching staff and everyone else in Saint John … they were really grateful to have me and showed me around and taught me a lot."

Veleno's ability to adjust has maintained the momentum of his exceptional expectations. And though his NHL Draft day is still two full seasons away, many are projecting Veleno to be among the first names off the board in 2018.

He embraces the challenge.

"Obviously, there's still a lot of work to be put in and still a long way to go, but these next few years are very important," Veleno said. "I've got to work even harder, because there's someone else that's going to want to take your spot somewhere and is working just as hard as you. You have to make sure you're working hard. I'm looking forward to that."

He's embracing his own draft day expectations, too, and they are tied to the No. 1 pick.

"I'm working really hard for that," Veleno said. "Of course, that's the goal, to be a top pick and to be drafted in the NHL. It's every kid's dream to be like that. I'm just going to work hard and keep focused, and just be true to myself."

View More