The early season trade from Mississauga to Windsor worked out better than Sean Day could have envisioned, as he and his Spitfire teammates swept the Memorial Cup to capture the franchise's third championship.
After spending the first three seasons of his Ontario Hockey League career with the Steelheads, the October move to Windsor presented new opportunities for the 2016 third-round pick.
The biggest, according to Day, was his new coach Rocky Thompson, who helped him grow as a player both in his style and his approach to the game.
"It's a complete turnaround," Day told NYRangers.com on Friday. "Rocky Thompson, I can't say enough [about] what the guy has done for me. I say it's a fresh start because it seems like it is. I came in and he wanted me to be an offensive guy and I think that's what I can do best."
Day said Thompson's willingness to let Day join the rush with his skating, skill and size played a huge role in what turned out to be a strong season for the 19-year-old, who posted career-highs with 15 goals and 37 points in 63 games.
With that said, Day added that Thompson also instilled in him to be responsible defensively, and that allowed him to play big minutes on an immensely talented defensive core that featured two 2016 first round picks.
"His play without the puck has been huge," Thompson told NYRangers.com. "His positioning and his ability to defend and his awareness away from the puck" have improved, as well as his gap control and his ability to win one-on-one battles.
Thompson said the key with Day was to increase his strength in his own zone without limiting his offensive skill set.
"We didn't want to change his ability to rush the puck up the ice," Thompson said. "We wanted to improve his decision making with and without the puck."
Part of that was getting Day to accept that mistakes happen during the course of the game. In the past, Day would allow mistakes big and small to linger and thus hurt his game the rest of the night. Not anymore.
"Rocky helped me out a lot with the maturity level," Day said. "If I make a mistake … I can just shake it off and play my game. That's where a lot of my confidence came from on both sides of the puck."
Gordie Clark, the Rangers' director of player personnel, said the move to Windsor to play under Thompson and General Manager Warren Rychel came at the right time.
"He was called upon to play a lot of minutes and be a big player for them," Clark said, who added that Day had a great year in terms of his growth and development.
As stated, Windsor's top-four was among the most talented in the Canadian Hockey League, with Montreal first-round pick Mikhail Sergachev paired with Vancouver signee Jalen Chatfield. Day was often paired with Winnipeg first rounder Logan Stanley.
Thompson said that core really pushed each other in a positive way, and that created a situation where all four players learned and excelled off each other.
"They drew on each other's experiences and learned together," Thompson said. "They were able to help one another out during that process."
Day said he never felt there was a bona fide first or second pair, just two units that could play big minutes against the opposition's best.
"We were really close, good friends" said Day, who tied for sixth among OHL defensemen in goals. "We're all sad to leave each other. I think that tells a special story about us and how close we actually were. We all wanted to be the top guy and that's what made us push each other."
Rangers Assistant General Manager Chris Drury said that type of environment will benefit Day down the line.
"You want your players to be surrounded by great players and players that want to play in the National Hockey League," Drury said, adding that there's a difference between wanting to play at the highest level and actually working towards doing it. "The kids he got to play and hang with in Windsor while playing for the coaches he had with NHL experience … really helped him."
Adam Graves called Day a "complete package" who had success in all three zones of the ice this season, which helped Day be a plus-player for the first time in his OHL career.
"He can pass the puck out and he's such a great skater," Graves said. "He's able to exit the zone with a heads up pass or with his speed and skill. That's really difficult to defend. Those are parts of his game … that he's made such great strides in over the last year here."
After the emotions of the Memorial Cup that proceeded a 44-day layoff between games following Windsor's loss to London in the OHL playoffs, Day said he'll take a few days off before hitting the ice again to prepare for development camp in a few weeks.
He said the experience from last year's camp - both developmental and main - will serve him well entering this summer, especially come September.
"Last year was more of a feel out process," Day admitted. "I knew I wasn't going to be in the NHL. This year, you have the experience of being there at least one time.
"I think just going into it, I'm more prepared and more ready with trying to impress [management] and wanting to give myself a chance to make the NHL, even if it's a longshot.