OHL legends rave about 15-year-old Sean Day

The talk of who will go first overall at next month's OHL draft can begin in earnest following Thursday's news that defenceman Sean Day was granted exceptional status by Hockey Canada. The 15-year-old defenceman's skating has been compared to that of Hall of Famer Paul Coffey.

Kilrea, Bassin compare defenceman's skating to Paul Coffey

Sherry Bassin doesn’t fill his mind with thoughts of the next big hockey talent skating alongside one of his own.

Last April, the longtime Ontario Hockey League general manager watched his Erie Otters draft centre Connor McDavid, the reigning Greater Toronto Hockey League player of the year, first overall.

McDavid was only the third player to have been granted exceptional status by Hockey Canada to be eligible for the draft as a 15-year-old. He went on to finish 30th in OHL scoring this season with 66 points in 63 games and exceed Bassin’s expectations in all aspects of the game.

On April 6, Erie has the second pick and could opt for defenceman Sean Day, 15, who was granted exceptional status on Thursday, should the last-place Ottawa 67s make Travis Konecny of the Elgin Middlesex Chiefs or fellow centre Dylan Strome of the Toronto Marlboros the No. 1 selection.

"I didn’t think about [McDavid on the ice with Day this season]," Bassin said over the phone Thursday from Owen Sound, where he was attending Game 1 of a OHL Western Conference playoff between the hometown Attack and Sault Ste. Marie. "I didn’t want to wake up from the dream of Connor McDavid. He’s such a special player and special person.

"Now, you’re seeing the possibility [of McDavid and Day as teammates] and thinking about it more."

Once the 73-year-old Bassin returns to Pennsylvania from this weekend’s OHL draft combine in Toronto, he plans to set up an interview with Day through his representative, former NHL defenceman Jason Woolley of The Players Group, Inc.

Day, a six-foot-two, 197-pound blue-liner, was a standout this season in Detroit’s High Performance Hockey League, scoring 11 goals and 35 points in 63 games with a plus-47 rating for the Compuware under-16s.

Canadian citizen

Born in Belgium, he never played minor hockey in Canada but holds a Canadian passport along with his parents Keith and Carol, who hail from Ontario and have work visas allowing them to live in Rochester, Mich.

'His skating is effortless. He looks like he’s not even working.'— Erie Otters GM Sherry Bassin on Sean Day

Bassin has seen Day play "six or seven" times this season, most recently at the Michigan State minor midget championship tournament, where the youngster displayed an effortless skating stride that Bassin and retired 67s coach Brian Kilrea said reminds them of former Edmonton Oilers great Paul Coffey.

"You can’t say strides," said Bassin, laughing, "because he doesn’t take many to get down the ice. He has a big, strong stride, good balance. His skating is effortless. He looks like he’s not even working."

Bassin suggested Day’s future OHL team possess strong puck-moving forwards to complement the defenceman’s speed.

"He outskates everyone so much at this level," said Bassin. "He joined the rush in some of the games I saw and he literally had to stop at the [opposing] blue-line. He would be so far ahead of everyone else, as a defenceman."

Kilrea, who retired in 2009 after 32 years as the winningest coach in Canadian Hockey League history, first laid his 78-year-old eyes on Day in November at the Whitby Silver Stick tourney near Toronto and came away "amazed at his effortless skating."

Coffey, whom Kilrea watched play in the OHL for Kitchener in the 1979-80 season and went on to play in 14 NHL all-star games, was the last player the former coach saw skate with the ease and effectiveness of Day.

"He skates with the knees bent so he doesn’t look as tall as he is," said Kilrea of Day. "I always go back to when [one-time NHL defenceman] Eddie Shore said, ‘You push with the thighs.’ He [Day] gets maximum effort out of his thrust.

"Skating isn’t easy for most players. You have to work at it. He doesn’t have to work at it."

Maturation process

Like Bassin, Kilrea watched Day at the Michigan State tournament and reported much growth in the rearguard’s game over the past four months as teams have played him more physical.

"He’s realized [opposing players] are checking him a little bit closer now and they’re keying on him," said Kilrea, who continues to scout part-time for the 67s, even after having triple bypass surgery last August. "He had to use his head more as well as his talent [to get in better position] which is good. He’s adjusting to what’s going to happen [next season in the OHL].

The man known as "Killer," who guided the 67s to five Memorial Cup appearances and won two, said there is no glaring weakness in Day’s game but did say he would be stepping into the toughest position in the OHL.

"When you’re a defenceman," Kilrea said, "you’re playing against some 19-year-old and 20-year-old forwards that may be on the verge of making the National Hockey League. They’ll know who Sean Day is but when they fight for pucks he’ll realize he’s got a little bit to go [in his development].

"Forwards are usually more ready [for the OHL] but [defenceman Aaron] Ekblad [who was granted exceptional status in 2011] proved that he could [rise to the challenge] in Barrie [where he won OHL rookie of the year honours] and I’m sure Sean Day will do the same here.

"You can never have enough defencemen. I’ve lived by that," added Kilrea. "Sometimes I would keep eight and nine defencemen on our roster and made them forwards, mainly because a defenceman can play forward but a forward can’t play defence."

In two weeks, we’ll find out if Kilrea and Ottawa head coach and GM Chris Byrne think alike, or if Bassin can start Day dreaming.