Joe Veleno, Drummondville Voltigeurs (QMJHL)
Age on Draft Day: 18.45 Years Old
Height/Weight: 6’1, 194 pounds
2017-2018 Stats (Including Playoffs): 74 GP, 27 G, 63 A, 32 PIM, +13
NHL Central Scouting: 8th (North American Skaters)
ISS Hockey: 10th
Bob McKenzie (TSN): 11th
Future Considerations: 14th
HockeyProspect.com (March): 23rd
Craig Button (TSN) (March): 27th
In 2015, Veleno became the fifth player to receive exceptional status from the CHL; that is, he was allowed to play in the top level of Canadian junior hockey at just 15 years old. The list of others to receive this privilege consists only of John Tavares, Aaron Ekblad, Connor McDavid, and Rangers’ prospect Sean Day. While Veleno will not be a first-overall selection, he has justified the decision by becoming one of the top players in the QMJHL.
There are a few aspects of Veleno’s game that stick out in a big way. The most obvious is his impact off of the puck. Veleno is a quick straight-line skater and also extremely smart, which is a deadly combination for opposing teams faced with pushing the puck past him with possession; particularly on the power play. Veleno can often be a one-man forecheck who, at his worst, delays movement by cutting off lanes and, at his best, creates turnovers and keeps the puck for long stretches. He’s able to walk the fine line of being aggressive and relentless while also keeping the penalties to a minimum. Watch for #9 and #90 in these clips.
Again, he’s a smart, tenacious player who will get into passing lanes and, just when you think his team might be exposed, he manages to get his stick in the way and block a pass or shot. Veleno is also a great straight-line skater, which isn’t particularly common for centers. So he can create offense from defense. When he (or a teammate) forces a turnover, he can jet up the ice for a transition opportunity.
Offensively, Veleno is mostly a playmaker; at least right now (more on that later). He’s a player you want on the perimeter getting lots of touches of the puck because he moves well with it and finds open passing seams. He loves skating in one direction, dragging defenders and the goaltender with him, and then moving the puck against the grain.
The concern with Veleno is the offensive production. His assist numbers are very good, though not elite. However, even for a center, his goal scoring numbers are pretty humdrum. In a high-scoring league like the QMJHL, 22 goals in 64 games puts him just 54th among forwards in goals-per-game (minimum 20 games played). After adjusting for factors such as league, age, and usage, Veleno ranks 13th among the 2018 draft class in SEAL-adjusted scoring. That’s still a very good number, but I have Veleno in the top-10. Why?
First, as hopefully hammered home already, is the parts of his games that aren’t directly quantified through numbers publicly available. His speed, forechecking ability, aptitude for reading the play, etc. It doesn’t hurt that he’s perceived by “hockey men” as a leader, as he this past year he captained both the Saint John Sea Dogs in the QMJHL and Canada at the Ivan Hlinka tournament.
But there are other centers in this draft whose play away from the puck is strong but lack point production. Some are even rated as top-10 eligible players by some evaluators. In my opinion, though, Veleno should not be grouped with them. With centers such as Isaac Lundestrom and Barrett Hayton, what you see is what you get. But I’m not sure we’ve seen the best of Veleno yet.
First, he got hit hard by puck luck during the first half of the QMJHL season. Over his first 30 games, he scored just four goals on 90 shots. Could he have shot more? Yes, and to certain degree that is part of his lack of scoring. But he also shot an absurdly low 4.4% over that span. Had he shot 12.1%, as he did during the 2016-2017 season, then it would have been in the 10-11 goal range. He upped his scoring the rest of the season, scoring 18 goals in his final 34 regular season games, plus five in 10 playoff games. Watching him on the ice, he hardly has a bomb of a shot, nor a tricky release, but he’s not sending floaters into the goalie’s chest, either. Though he’ll always be a playmaker, I think there’s reason to believe he can put a few more pucks in the net going forward.
Second, for much of the season he was more or less riding solo. The Saint John Sea Dogs were a top QMJHL team in both 2015-2016 and 2016-2017, but as is often the case in the CHL, life cycles are very short and contending teams quickly become barren once top players graduate to pro hockey. The Sea Dogs ranked dead last in the QMJHL this season with just 14 wins over 68 games, and Veleno was just 7 points removed from their second-leading forward despite playing less than half of their games. Per Canucks Army, only four players in their top-100 were involved in a higher percentage of their team’s goals than Veleno was, and I’d bet he’d jump even higher if that was isolated for his games with Saint John.
Once he was traded to Drummondville, his production skyrocketed. Partly because the trade coincided with the start of his shooting percentage regression, but also certainly because he had talent around him for the first time.
As other people’s rankings show, Veleno is a bonafide top-15 prospect. He’s a great skater, and gifted passer who will create chances for his teammates both off of the rush and from the perimeter in sustained offensive zone possession. He’s a defensive workhorse who will adjust to whatever tactical package his team operates under and it’s not very difficult to see how he translates at the NHL level. He did spent time on the wing in Drummondville, as he certainly has the speed for the position, but his future is best served at center. One would think he has a very realistic chance at turning into a quality middle-six center in the NHL who plays in all situations and coaches can rely on to stick to the game plan and face quality competition.
We’re at 10th in the rankings now, so if we weren’t already past the cutoff point for players with in-your-face star potential, then we definitely are now. But I personally view the circumstances surrounding his lukewarm production as an inefficiency to exploit. There is possibly more dormant offensive ability within Veleno waiting to be realized. That’s not to say that it’s realistic to hope for a Toews or Kopitar reincarnate, but I would not categorically rule out a future a low-end first-line center in the NHL. In my eyes, that potential upside is what pushes him closer to 10th overall than 15th. Even at ninth overall, he’d be a perfectly acceptable pick by the Rangers.
What Others Have Said
Kevin Malenfant, Dans Les Coullisses:
“His effectiveness in the defensive zone is probably the most crucial facet of his game”
Corey Pronman, The Athletic:
I like his puck skills, he’s a very smart player and he can consistently make above-average plays. Can he take a game over? That’s the million dollar question with Veleno.