Sean Day has had a long, thoroughly described, and winding road leading to his time within the Tampa Bay Lightning organization. Since he arrived here he’s played really well, culminating in his first career NHL games played and as a result has made our Top 25 Under 25 list for the first time in his last year of eligibility.
Sean Day was a highly touted prospect dating back to his time in U16 hockey in Ontario. But his perception seemingly withered away through his junior career as he never quite met the hype that was put upon him, eventually culminating in being drafted in the third round in 2016 by the New York Rangers. Scouts didn’t like his energy or committment, but in reality he just hadn’t figured out the defensive end of the game and how to simplify himself to execute the plays needed at those times. A common phrase around him was “raw” because all his talent was there, it just wasn’t getting packaged into a complete game.
Once drafted, Day spent two seasons with Hartford, slowly slipping into the ECHL more than playing in the AHL. Finally once his ELC expired, the Rangers didn’t qualify him and he signed an NHL contract with the Tampa Bay Lightning. In his age 23 and age 24 seasons with the Syracuse Crunch, Day quickly became the top offensive defenseman for the team, meaning he was leveraged in the offensive zone with the top forwards as much as possible.
One of the main barriers for offensive defenders being given this type of deployment from coaches is their level of competency to be in the lineup at all defensively, and their play in transition against when the play goes from offensive to defensive. Lots of defenders struggle at this, with famous names like Tyson Barrie, Anthony DeAngelo, Morgan Rielly, Brent Burns, John Klingberg, and many others. Some of these players absolutely cannot be trusted outside the offensive zone, others are good enough that they can take top competition and survive, and one of them (Barrie) can’t even be trusted not to shoot the puck into shins every time he gets the puck.
For Sean Day, a lot of his teams started trusting him less and he slipped lower and lower in the depth chart, but the Syracuse Crunch gave him a chance. Benefitting from being a few years older and a few more years separated from junior hockey, the Crunch were able to train Day to be better in his own zone and coming back. After watching him play last season, I thought Day was very aware when he had to come back defensively early, he looked in control of his positioning relative to the puck, and he threw his weight around in the defensive zone. All in all, that’s enough to succeed and he flourished with the Crunch.
In checking Day’s goals for rates — a stat that shows when offensive defenders are giving up too much at the other end relative to the quality of the team — he came out positive himself and positive relative to the team average. That means he was a benefit to the team and made them better when he was on the ice.
One of the things that benefits Day on the ice is his NHL-calibre speed. He’s able to break through the neutral zone and using his teammates to get over the blueline. And with his speed, he’s often able to bypass the wingers and essentially do their job on the forecheck and make plays from behind the net. I assume this is something he’s always had. The thing he’s learned is to get out of that vulnerable position sooner rather than later and use that speed to good effect in transitions against, both in using his stick, but also rubbing forwards out along the boards more often.
Last season’s success with the Crunch eventually led to his first career NHL games with the Lightning. In the first of his two games, he and Cal Foote got lit up as the third pair against Montreal, not a great night. In his second game, the Lightning got lit up 3-9 against Florida. Day was only a -1 in that game but played a lot in the third period when the game was mostly done. So despite not showing well in his first NHL chance, he still got to play in the NHL. His NHL GP is likely going to be higher than 10-15 of the other prospects in our Top 25 Under 25, so I have to give him full credit where it’s due.
As for this season, Day will be on the outside looking in at the Lightning’s roster, but he has a better chance than most of his peers on the Crunch to add more games to his resume. He’s probably going to be the first or second call up next to Darren Raddysh after Andrej Sustr left the organization. And beyond the possibility of injuries, Mikhail Sergachev has moved above the third pair, so there might be an opening on the left side for an offensively minded defender to play some sheltered minutes. I have to think Day will get a look at that position again.
I’m going to share the highlight videos of Day’s two games. He shows up a couple times in each. I really think Hedman just had one of those awful days in the Florida game. He was getting his butt kicked by the Florida forwards. But it’s ok, all’s well that ends well in the playoffs. For Day, I thought he did everything he could on the first goal against, and he didn’t make the worst effort against Anthony Duclair. Watching those goals weren’t great, but I didn’t come to the conclusion that Day had no business being in the NHL.
Taylor Raddysh parks himself in front of the net to bat it home for his 7th goal of the season. That’s the 5th time he’s opened the scoring for the Crunch this season. Otto Somppi and Sean Day pick up the assists. pic.twitter.com/KXqTgqscJI— Future Bolts (@LightningProsp1) April 18, 2021
P.C. Labrie and Sean Day work a give and go to break onto the scoreboard.— Jeremy Paul (@FPHMonsters) March 23, 2022
After the number of high-danger chances from the Crunch, I'm shocked it's only their first goal tonight.
0-1 | 18:45 1st | #CLEvsSYR pic.twitter.com/bNfprLBSAj
First career shorty for Day! pic.twitter.com/jVHsOyQFMs— Syracuse Crunch (@SyracuseCrunch) October 16, 2021
I believe in Day’s talent, I think he’s a good defenseman. It’s been nice to see him work his way out of the ECHL and make the NHL only two years later. Sometimes it takes a while for a good prospect in junior who only ever had to worry about one thing in his game to grow into a pro and elevate the rest of his game to match his talent. At no point in his time in the NHL did I think he looked out of place. He’s very close to putting it together, theoretically he can keep up with the pace, both physically and mentally, he just needs to do it.
So when it came to the votes, I put Day above anyone I considered to have their ceiling as a depth role player or who’s a complete longshot. Because by playing in the NHL, he’s achieved the maximum outcome for players of that sort. The only players without NHL GP that I had above Day were young, promising prospects, the oldest of which was Maxim Groshev. All my colleagues also had him between 10th and 12th, which is very reasonable for fringe players who could go either way on waivers.
I don’t think we have ever written a T25 for Day before, so I’m glad we got to do one before he aged out.
Will Sean Day play in the NHL again this season?
Yes, a permanent role as the 6/7
Yes, he’ll get another cup of coffee
Someone will claim him on waivers
Maybe again someday, but not this year
No, last season was a one-off