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NHL Draft

Rangers prospect Day embracing 'awesome' ride

New York's first pick in 2016 NHL Draft prepared to spend another season in OHL

by Brian Compton @BComptonNHL / Deputy Managing Editor

GREENBURGH, N.Y. -- Sean Day skated as a member of the New York Rangers organization for the first time Monday, hoping to start a new part of his hockey journey and put another one behind him.

Three years ago, the defenseman became the fourth player to be granted exceptional player status by Hockey Canada, allowing him to be eligible to play in the Ontario Hockey League as a 15-year-old.

Day joined an elite list; the three players to be granted exceptional prior to him in the OHL were Edmonton Oilers center Connor McDavid, Florida Panthers defenseman Aaron Ekblad and New York Islanders center John Tavares. All three later became the first player selected at the NHL Draft.

But Day didn't live up to the expectations and had to wait until the second day of the NHL Draft before his name was called. The Rangers selected Day in the third round at No. 81, but the 6-foot-2, 231-pound defenseman said Monday he wasn't rattled as he sat at First Niagara Center in Buffalo.

"I saw a bunch of my friends called, so it was cool for me," Day said after his first day of Rangers prospect development camp at MSG Training Center. "I got to see all their hard work get recognized.

"It's not going to change the player you are, wherever you go. I was ranked whatever and I went 81. I was New York's first pick, though. I can tell that they want me here. I can tell that they want me to make the team at some point. I couldn't be happier. Everyone here is such great guys. The staff here is so easy-going and welcoming to everybody. It's been an awesome, awesome ride so far. Hopefully we can carry it out through the summer on to a long journey." 

Video: Sean Day joins the guys to talk Draft day

It would make the journey all worthwhile, one that started with so much promise and pressure. Day admitted it wasn't easy to follow in the footsteps of McDavid, Ekblad and Tavares, but he's grateful for the Rangers taking a chance on him.

"It was obviously tough," said Day, who turned 18 on Jan. 9. "I think I handled it pretty well, better than a lot of people thought I did. I'm still here, I'm still the same player I was. The improvements I've made in the offseason, I know New York likes that and I know I'm going to keep getting better. I guess it's time just to prove I can play in the NHL at some point.

"[The Rangers] know I'm on the right track. They just want me to be myself and have fun with it. Not everyone gets to do this. Just have fun with it, and like I said, be myself."

Day hopes to impress Rangers brass throughout the course of the week and again when training camp opens in September, but he knows the chances of playing in the NHL this fall are slim. The possibility of playing a fourth season with Mississauga wouldn't leave him feeling dejected. In fact, he'd embrace it.

"Being realistic, there's a development process with everyone," Day said. "I'm not going to be salty about anything. Obviously I'm going to try to make the team, but I can benefit from one more year of junior. If that's what they want me to do, then obviously I'll take that in stride. We're going to have a really good team in Mississauga next year, so that's not going to be painful for me. We have really good coaches and really good help down there. I'm listening to them, they're the pros." 

Like all junior players, Day, who was born in Belgium to Canadian parents and spent three years in Singapore before continuing his hockey career in Detroit, has spent a lot of time watching the NHL. Who would he like to model his game after?

"Probably like a Victor Hedman," Day said of the Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman. "He's a big guy, plays a good two-way game, shutdown defenseman, jumps up on the rush offensively. He's a good skater and he's not afraid to be physical."

Day said he visited New York City once when he was 10 years old, but doesn't remember much about the trip. The Rangers prospects will head there Wednesday and see the sights. 

"I can't believe I'm here right now," Day said. "I'm having fun with it. It's awesome."

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