“I could have gone a lot earlier in my opinion, but it motivates me to be better than all of the players that went ahead of me and end up being the best player in that draft,” he said.
The Red Wings were just as surprised to find Veleno available when they were ready to make their second pick of the first round. Having taken high-scoring forward Filip Zadina with the No. 6 pick, they were planning to use No. 30 to select a defenseman.
Veleno, though, changed that.
“We had him extremely high on our board,” Red Wings director of amateur scouting Tyler Wright said. “We were targeting centers, and while I don’t like to make comparisons, he skates like Dylan Larkin and he plays the game like Dylan Larkin.”
Veleno first made news in 2015 when he was the first player from Quebec to receive exceptional-player status from Hockey Canada. That allowed him to be drafted into the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League at age 15, one year younger than usual. Saint John selected him with the No. 1 pick of the 2015 QMJHL draft.
He never had a season to match some of the other players who received exceptional-player status, among them Edmonton Oilers forward Connor McDavid, Florida Panthers defenseman Aaron Ekblad and Toronto Maple Leafs forward John Tavares, all of whom entered the Ontario Hockey League at age 15 and were the No. 1 picks in their respective NHL draft years.
But Veleno took a major jump forward last season. Veleno had 31 points (six goals, 27 assists) in his first 31 games last season, but with Saint John struggling he was traded to Drummondville on Dec. 8. He had 48 points (16 goals, 33 assists) in 33 games after the trade, and 11 points (five goals, six assists) in 10 playoff games to help Drummondville reach the second round.
His 79 points (22 goals, 57 assists) in 64 regular-season games were almost as many as he had in his first two QMJHL seasons (83).
“At Saint John things weren’t working out as well and I got the opportunity to be dealt to Drummondville, a contending team with some really good players, and I kind of found my game after that,” he said.
Veleno’s next challenge is finding his way onto the Red Wings roster.
Detroit has a deep list of experienced forwards, plus Zadina and Michael Rasmussen, the No. 9 pick of the 2017 NHL Draft, could be NHL-ready this season.
The possibility of another season in Drummondville isn’t keeping Veleno thinking about life in the NHL with Zadina on his wing.
“Our games are a little different,” he said. “He’s more of a scorer and I’m more of a passer, so I should be able to help him.”