You can never have enough experience.
And there was no shortage of it at Canada’s National Junior Team Summer Development Camp with 41 of the Canadian Hockey League’s brightest stars in attendance. Six of those stars, however, naturally stand out from the pack given their unique opportunity to pull on the iconic red, white, and black colours for their country again this winter.
That group features Drummondville Voltigeurs forward and Detroit Red Wings first-round draft pick Joe Veleno alongside CHL Player of the Year and projected top 2020 NHL Draft pick Alexis Lafreniere of the Rimouski Oceanic who were the only two of the six returnees taking part in on-ice activities last week in Plymouth.
Fellow returnees Noah Dobson (Rouyn-Noranda Huskies/New York Islanders), Barrett Hayton (Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds/Arizona Coyotes), Jared McIsaac (Halifax Mooseheads/Red Wings), and Ty Smith (Spokane Chiefs/New Jersey Devils) were all in attendance at camp but unable to compete due to injury.
For Veleno, the chance to return to the national stage follows past opportunities not only including last year’s world juniors, but a pair of appearances at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup – Veleno captained Canada to a gold medal win in 2017 – plus a five-game showing with Team Canada Black at the 2015 World Under-17 Hockey Challenge.
In all, there has been no shortage of big moments preparing Veleno for the national spotlight, including multiple appearances in the CIBC Canada Russia Series, an invaluable tune up for players and talent evaluators alike ahead of the World Juniors.
“It’s one of the steps to playing for Team Canada,” Veleno told the Canadian Hockey League. “The Summer Showcase is No. 1, and the next step is a little bit of your season, but then it’s the Canada Russia Series, which is really important. Ever since I played my first series, the first thing I think about is Hockey Canada. It’s a way for them to view where you are and if you’re going to get invited to camp and make the team.”
After finishing an unsatisfying sixth place at last year’s World Juniors, Veleno is hopeful for a different outcome his second time around.
“I think last year was really big. It was obviously one of my goals to play for Team Canada at 18. I worked really hard for that, it was obviously a disappointing result, but hopefully this time around we step up and win that gold medal.”
Veleno notched two assists in five games at the 2019 IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship, while this year’s Summer Showcase saw him shine with two goals and one assist in two contests.
In the lead up to the annual holiday classic, Veleno is expected to star once again in the QMJHL and live up to the exceptional status he was granted in 2015 when he became the first player from the QMJHL to earn such recognition.
Fast forward to 2019 and the Kirkland, Quebec, native now carries four seasons of CHL tenure with him which is one more than any of his fellow returnees. With time split between the Saint John Sea Dogs and the Voltigeurs, Veleno has impressed with 90 goals and 176 assists for 266 points in 230 appearances, including an incredible 2018-19 showing that saw him finish third in league scoring with 104 points in just 59 outings.
Given this experience a leadership role for Veleno is only fitting.
“You’re getting older and the other guys are getting younger so it’s a good way to step up and lead through example, showing the younger guys the ropes. If I get to play there again, I’ll definitely have my leadership abilities present.”