The offensive instincts were always there for defenseman Sean Day, but after an early season trade sent him from Mississauga to Windsor, the blueliner, his coaches and Rangers personnel saw the 19-year-old develop into a well-rounded player who played a big role in the Spitfires' Memorial Cup championship.
"It's a complete turnaround," Day, the Rangers' 2016 third-round pick, said in a recent interview. "[Former Windsor head coach] 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," he added. "I came in and [Thompson] wanted me to be an offensive guy and I think that's what I can do best."
Day turned in his most productive season offensively with 15 goals - sixth among Ontario Hockey League defensemen - and 37 points in 63 games.
But arguably more impressive was Day's play away from the puck.
"His play without the puck has been huge," Thompson said. "His positioning and his ability to defend and his awareness away from the puck" improved after the trade. Thompson also praised Day's gap control and ability to win one-on-one puck battles.
While that progression is certainly a positive, Day's offensive ability and smooth skating are still his biggest attributes. Adam Graves said Day is strong at getting the puck out of his own zone, whether it be with a pass or by using his legs.
"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."
Day had the benefit of playing alongside several first-round picks on defense, including Montreal's Mikhail Sergachev. Chris Drury, the Rangers' assistant general manager and Hartford's GM, said that will benefit Day in the long run.
"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."
After a successful end to his junior season, Day - who signed his entry-level contract in March - now sets his sights on development camp later this month, and main camp in September. He said his experience this season, as well as going through both camps last summer, should benefit him this time around.
"Last year was more of a feel out process," Day stated. "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."