When Hockey Canada granted Joseph Veleno exceptional player status — the first QMJHL player to be given the designation — less than 48 hours before Saturday’s Q draft, everything changed.
It looked like the draft would follow a similar script to last season. Once again the draft will take place in Sherbrooke, Que., and for the second year in a row, Saint John Sea Dogs general manager Darrell Young and his brass hold the first overall pick.
Last year the Sea Dogs selected Nova Scotian defenceman Luke Green, and this year there was speculation another Nova Scotian, Shane Bowers, would go first overall. Now it’s all but a sure thing the Sea Dogs will select Veleno, and Bowers will go somewhere in the next three picks. Where Bowers goes could determine if he plays in the Q or if he follows the U.S. college route.
Bowers wrapped up his first year of major midget with the Halifax McDonald’s with a league-leading 23 goals and 52 points in 34 games, taking home the award for league MVP in the process. On top of that, the centre played in the Canada Games in Prince George, B.C., in February for a Nova Scotia team that finished sixth but pulled off an upset win over Saskatoon in the preliminary round.
51 Games 38 Goals 47 Assists for 85 Points. Not a bad rookie season for Shane Bowers pic.twitter.com/ijC6xyzReH
— Halifax Macs (@HfxMacs) March 30, 2015
“That was a great experience in B.C., getting to play against the top kids in your age group and seeing where you stack up against the best kids in the country,” says Bowers, who finished the tournament with four goals and two assists in six games for a squad from one of Canada’s smallest provinces.
While he won’t turn 16 until later this summer, Bowers already has size with a six-foot, 161-pound frame. He’s a fast skater, shows brilliance with the puck, has great vision and an understanding of the game that allows him to excel on all areas of the ice.
“Not only can I be put out to score goals, but also to stop them. I think I’m responsible and my hockey IQ allows me to be aware of what’s happening on the ice and be able to adapt to any situation,” says Bowers, who is a Chicago Blackhawks fan and models his game after Jonathan Toews, an NHL player who has collected awards for both his offensive and defensive efforts.
Halifax McDonald’s head coach Tim Boyce says Bowers is “a pretty impressive offensive player,” but wasn’t afraid to use him in all situations this season.
“He completely understands the defensive zone while killing penalties. He’s reliable, you know he’s going to get the puck out. He’s not afraid to stand in shooting lanes and block the shot if it needs to happen. He goes to the dirty areas and a lot of times will come out with the puck,” says Boyce.
He stepped his game up in the playoffs, netting just under two points per game with 33 in 17 games, including 20 points in the first round.
“If we didn’t have him in the first round of the playoffs against Valley, we probably don’t get out of the first round. He took us on his back offensively. He rises to the occasion in the big games and he relishes the opportunity to be the guy,” says Boyce.
The QMJHL’s Central Scouting has Bowers ranked third on its final list, with Maxime Comtois in the No. 1 slot and Châteauguay teammate Antoine Morand second. Comtois and Morand went on a deep run with the Grenadiers, advancing to the national midget championship finals of the Telus Cup, losing 6-2 to the Toronto Young Nationals. Comtois finished with second in the tournament with 15 points while Morand finished fifth with 11.
Veleno was not in Central Scouting’s final rankings since his request for exceptional status to enter the Q a year early was denied after his application was not submitted on time. Valeno, who turned 15 in January, scored 16 goals and had 52 points in 41 games with the Midget AAA team Lac St-Louis Lions, the same team where Jonathan Drouin played. He also played for Quebec at the Canada Games on a team comprised of players a year older than him.
With Joseph Veleno getting exceptional status, the draft just got even more interesting. Saint John will take him No. 1.
— Willy Palov (@WillyPalov) June 4, 2015
The Q isn’t the only path available for Bowers as the U.S. college route is also an option. Early in May, the Waterloo Blackhawks of the United States Hockey League drafted him in the third round with the 38th overall pick. Bowers knew before the USHL draft there was a good chance he’d be taken and he watched a live stream of the draft online when he found out he was selected.
— Waterloo Black Hawks (@BlckHawksHockey) May 4, 2015
“I’ve talked to the coaches out there. They know I’m still weighing both options so they’re not rushing me or anything like that,” says Bowers. “It’s not so much for me a preference of one route over the other for one certain thing. It’s going to be what’s the best situation, where am I going to be able to develop the best and pursue the goal of playing in the NHL.”
Bowers’s decision will be made easier on Saturday once he is selected in the Q draft. Eight of the top 10 picks are held by teams in the Maritimes division, led by the Saint John Sea Dogs who own the first (acquired from Drummondville), ninth and 10th (acquired from Charlottetown) picks. Before the Veleno news, the Sea Dogs had expressed interest in Bowers as Young knows him personally and knows what he brings to the table after coaching him in lacrosse in the past. The Sea Dogs have made trade offers to acquire another top four pick but nothing has panned out so far.
“I’m really looking forward to (the draft). I’ve talked to teammates and buddies that have experienced it and they’ve said it’s awesome. They’ve said to enjoy the moment and take it all in, you won’t get to do it again.”
First Round draft order
1. Saint John
4. Cape Breton
6. Cape Breton
9. Saint John
10. Saint John
19. Cape Breton