As per the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, the word ‘exceptional’ can be defined in three ways;
Forming an exception.
Better than average.
Deviating from the norm; such as having above- or below-average intelligence.
For any hockey fan who has been fortunate enough to see Joseph Veleno play, it’s hard not to connect the three definitions to the young man from Kirkland,
Whether it’s his hockey IQ, everyday maturity, tremendous skill set or fierce desire to win, Veleno is beginning to show just why he was deemed
‘exceptional’ ahead of the 2015 Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL) Entry Draft.
The exceptional player status allowed him to enter the Canadian Hockey League as a 15-year-old, the fifth player ever to earn that distinction, following
John Tavares, Aaron Ekblad, Connor McDavid and Sean Day.
So what makes Veleno stand out? Why not take a look at the definition of ‘exceptional’ and find out.
1) Forming an exception
On two occasions over the last 10 months, Veleno’s age made him the exception on Team Canada.
Last November, he was the lone 15-year-old to represent Canada at the 2015 World Under-17 Hockey Challenge, and this week he’s the only 16-year-old on
Canada’s National Men’s Summer Under-18 Team for the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Cup.
In fact, Veleno is the second-youngest player to ever wear red and white at a summer under-18 tournament, behind only Sidney Crosby, who wore led Canada in
scoring at the 2003 Junior World Cup.
But being an under-ager is nothing new for Veleno; he has played with older players for most of his minor hockey career, and once again last year as a
Born 13 days after the start of the new millenium, Veleno has been ‘the young guy’ for years, starting when he began outplaying competitors that were one
or two years older than him.
“I feel as the years go on, he becomes more and more comfortable,” says Ryan Jankowski, director of player personnel for Hockey Canada. “He certainly
excels with the older guys and that’s a mark of being exceptional.”
“I think I handle myself really well,” Veleno says of playing as an under-ager. “I try not to focus too much on that kind of stuff and pretend like
everyone else was my age. I have my own expectations, so I don’t worry about what people are thinking elsewhere.”
That’s a mature way of thinking for any player, let alone a 16-year-old, but not surprising for someone so used to handling the pressure of constantly having
all eyes on him.
2) Better than average
This one is easy. As a 13-year-old, Veleno put up 36 points in 27 Bantam AAA games with the Lac St-Louis Lions before making the jump to the Ligue de
hockey midget AAA du Québec (LHMAAAQ) in 2014-15.
Facing off against players as much as three years older than him, in one of the best Midget leagues in the country, Veleno posted 52 points in 41 games.
That total was good for 12th in LHMAAAQ scoring and third among all rookies.
He also added 10 points in six games with Quebec at the 2015 Canada Winter Games, and co-led Canada Black in scoring at the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge
with four points in five games.
With success like that on the biggest stages in the game, Veleno is unquestionably better than average.
“I thought at last year’s U17s he kept getting better every day and he was Canada Black’s best player at the end of the tournament,” says Jankowski. “He
was the guy they relied upon to create some offence and became their best player overall. That certainly trended well for him.”
For Veleno, playing his best against the best comes down to one thing.
“Confidence is key,” he says. “Your mind is a powerful thing, so if the confidence is there, it helps. I’ve always had it growing up and I always have
confidence in anything I’m doing. I always say to myself that I can do this, and that it’s been done before.”
3) Deviating from the norm; having above-average intelligence
From the way Veleno controls the pace of a game when he’s on the ice, to the way he carries himself off the ice, he certainly deviates from the norm.
He owns an unmatched hockey sense and knows the sacrifices required to succeed. But Veleno is also one of the best students of the game; he soaks up
everything he can from his time with the Program of Excellence and applies it to his game.
“It’s important for me to learn things on the ice but also off of it,” he says. “Hockey Canada has a really great support group that shows us things like
preparation and other qualities that’ll help us become pro athletes.
“I’ve also learned that mental preparation is key. It helps to perform well in big games and to get yourself really psyched up for whatever is to come.”
Once again, words of wisdom from a young talent.