Members of the draft analysis community are divided on Drummondville Voltigeurs centre Joseph Veleno. I’ve seen him crack the top ten on the boards of some draft analysts and absent from the first round entirely on others. Veleno checks in at 13 CanucksArmy’s consensus list.
For now, Veleno is the only player in the history of the QMJHL to earn exceptional status, granting him the ability to join the league as a 15-year-old. In his first two years with the Saint John Sea Dogs, Veleno showed himself as worthy of the honour. In this, his third season, Veleno appeared to have plateaued before a mid-season trade to Drummondville Voltigeurs lit a fire under the talented pivot.
The question then is what to make of Veleno’s trajectory. If he’s the player he was to start the season in Saint John, then the concerns that have driven him from the first-round seem warranted; if he’s the player that tore the QMJHL up with Drummondville, then a top ten selection seems wholly reasonable. With our ranking of Veleno comfortably in the first half of the first-round, it’s clear where we stand.
- Age/Birthdate: 17.67 / January 13, 2000
- Birthplace: Kirkland QC, CAN
- Frame: 6-foot-1 / 194 lbs
- Position: Centre
- Handedness: Left
- Draft Year Team: Saint John Sea Dogs (QMJHL)
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Adjusted Scoring (SEAL)
Full disclosure: I’m a big believer in Veleno. I’ve watched a disproportionate amount of QMJHL hockey relative to other feeder leagues this year, and it’s often featured Veleno’s Sea Dogs and Voltigeurs. That lends itself to the confidence I have that Veleno played as well at the beginning of the year as he did towards the end — it’s just the results that changed.
Hockey is a fickle mistress, and knowing what we do about short and long-term variance at the NHL level, it’s not hard to imagine a scenario where Veleno suffered poor percentages in his time as a Sea Dog this season. That combined with a less than stellar supporting cast conspired to submarine his production and his draft stock in the worst possible way.
But does that reflect in Veleno’s data sets from his time with each of his two teams this season? It absolutely does.
In Veleno’s first 31 games of the season in Saint John, he was producing at a modest point per game pace; upon arrival in Drummondville, that number jumped to nearly one and a half points per game. The difference? A jump from a shooting percentage of 6.3% to 15.2%. That second number is perhaps a bit rich, but it’s not outlandish for a high-quality finisher in the QMJHL. Further to that end, it’s not even at the 70th percentile among first-time draft-eligible skaters period.
By season’s end, Veleno had accrued 79 points (22 goals and 57 assists) in 64 games. That amounts to about a one-in-three chance of panning out based on the historical stature and statistically similar players churned out by the pGPS (prospect graduation probabilities system) developed by CanucksArmy’s Jeremy Davis. That number is consistent with his percentages in the two seasons prior (28.5% and 29.2% respectively), consistent with the theme of hitting a plateau.
The SEAL (Situation Era Age League) adjustments to his per game scoring rate, also developed by Davis, give him a slight bump from 1.23 points per game to 1.32, good for the 13th highest rate among first-time draft-eligible skaters.
You’ll hear a lot about Veleno checking out as a member of the Sea Dogs, and that his effort level rose with the mid-season change of scenery. I just don’t buy it. There’s nothing in the underlying data to suggest that’s remotely true. In fact, his shots per game are almost the exact same (right around 3.1) from team to team.
What a difference going from the league’s second-worst offensive team in the league to its best can make for a player.
The tools were always apparent. Veleno is a relentless competitor, with and without the puck. He can make plays at speed, which is crucial because he’s a lightning fast skater who can reach his top gear in no time at all. That skill reflects itself in Veleno’s ability to drive play through the neutral zone. His zone entry data is among the best in the sample of players The Athletic’s Mitch Brown tracked from junior leagues this season.
Most of Veleno’s offence comes from his ability to find holes in the opposition defence and exploit them with crisp tape-to-tape passes to his teammates, but I’ve seen him display solid finishing talent too from time to time. This shot contributions chart driven by the same data Brown tracked for The Athletic suggests his playmaking and shot generation are significant drivers of offence.
There aren’t any glaring deficiencies in Veleno’s game. He could stand to get stronger, but isn’t that par for the course with players of this age? He could stand to improve defensively, but only ever so slightly — he already has great defensive habits and is equally invested in his own end of the ice. Veleno’s shot isn’t awful, but it’s far from a strength, but he makes his hay as a playmaker, so it’s hard to imagine a scenario where that impedes his ability to produce in the professional ranks.
There’s a distinct and common issue at work here that’s clouded people’s ability to rationally evaluate Veleno on the merits of his play without the context in which he arrived at it. There’s a difference between playing poorly and disappointing people relative to the expectations that come with exceptional status. A significant difference in this case.
I’m not sure if Veleno is going to develop into a talent akin to those who’ve earned exceptional status previously (Sean Day excluded), but he’s an excellent prospect with a high ceiling that could develop into a top-six centre at the NHL level. I wouldn’t be surprised if someone jumps the consensus and takes him closer to the tenth overall pick. If he’s around much longer, he’s going to prove one of the better picks by value of the first round.
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Veleno’s strongest asset could be his skating. He has breakaway speed and acceleration, excellent agility and edge work and is strong on his skates. More of a playmaker than sniper Veleno does a great job of distributing the puck using his vision, hockey sense and puck skills to set up teammates. Veleno has a good shot but needs to more selfish and take more shots. Veleno has good size and strength and while not a very aggressive player, he isn’t shy to fight for loose pucks and can win puck battles along the boards with his high compete level.
CanucksArmy’s 2018 NHL Draft Rankings