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‘His future is up to him’: JM's Veney has size, skill to make a bright hockey future

Jayden Veney is a smooth-skating defenseman with a heavy shot and the ability to score goals in multiple ways. He's just a sophomore and he goes 6-feet-7, 190 pounds. That all adds up to some exciting possibilities for his future.

John Marshall vs. Highland Park Boys Hockey
John Marshall's Jayden Veney (2) controls the puck during a boys hockey game against Highland Park on Tuesday, Dec. 21, 2021, at the Rochester Recreation Center.
Joe Ahlquist / Post Bulletin

When Matt Erredge is asked about where hockey could eventually take Jayden Veney, he sums it up like this:

Junior hockey coaches and college coaches are constantly adding names to — and removing names from — lists. They have lists of players they want to watch develop, lists of players to pursue for future seasons and lists of must-have players who could be difference-makers.

Veney, a standout sophomore defenseman at John Marshall, will never have to play himself onto those lists.

“He has aspirations to go on in hockey and he’s one of those guys who, he’d have to play himself off of a list,” said Erredge, John Marshall’s head coach. “I had to play myself onto a list. Some guys never get on a list. He literally would have to play himself off.”

Judging by his development over the past two seasons, Veney has every intention of keeping himself on those lists. At 6-feet-7, 190 pounds, the 2005-born left-shot defenseman is a smooth skater with a heavy shot and playmaking abilities that few high school players of his stature possess.

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“I think his teammates are just starting to understand how good he can be,” Erredge said. “We’re seeing it, just his consistency in scoring. I think he’s scored in 14 of 21 games — as a ‘D.’ He’s done it in every way. He’s done it on breakaways, from the point, from the top of the circle, on wraparounds. He’s scored just about any way you can, and for a defenseman, that’s a special attribute. It’s hard to teach that.”

Veney’s most noticeable attribute — aside from the frame of an NFL tight end — is his personality. Naturally outgoing, he has a constant smile on his face and a clear passion for the sport and for helping his team and teammates succeed, especially this season, when JM has had only about 14 skaters on its roster all season.

That hasn’t mattered to Veney or his teammates, though. They’ve enjoyed playing with and for one another, and building an 8-16-0 record that they’ll take into the Section 1AA playoffs this week — the Rockets will play at Dodge County in a first-round game at 7 p.m. Tuesday.

“It’s been fun,” Veney said of his sophomore season. “We don’t have a lot of guys, but we work every single game and try to surprise the other team. … I’m just enjoying it, having fun with my friends.”

While Erredge and JM’s coaches appreciate Veney’s infectious enthusiasm, they’d like to see some of those smooth edges to his game become a bit more calloused.

“It’s one of the ways he can keep himself on those lists, bringing that element of physicality,” Erredge said. “It’s not natural for him. He’s a super nice kid, very easy going off the ice, a great kid. That’s not an easy thing for him to flip the switch, but when he does, he's dominant.

“It’s crazy when it switches on and it’s like ‘boom! There it is, we see it, he’s a dominant player!’

Bringing that consistency every night is important for him.”

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Veney comes from an athletic family. His brother Deontae, a 2020 JM graduate, is a 6-foot-6, 275-pound offensive lineman for NCAA Division II power Minnesota State University, Mankato’s football team.

Jayden will stick with hockey, though, and some who know him well believe the sky is the limit for him.

“I don’t think there is” a limit to where he can go, said Rochester Grizzlies coach Chris Ratzloff, who has coached Veney in summer and fall leagues. “He absolutely can be a Division I player. With his size, he can be a pro if he continues to develop and work on the little things — his quickness, his skating. He moves well for a big guy and he can shoot the puck.”

Veney got a jump-start on this high school season by playing Midget hockey for the Des Moines Buccaneers AAA U16 team last fall. He excelled there, scoring eight goals and adding 11 assists in 26 games before returning to JM for his sophomore season. Among his teammates there were Northfield’s Cayden Monson and Century’s TJ Gibson.

“It was really good competition there, a lot of talented kids,” Veney said. “It seemed like each team we played, they had a couple of D1 dudes, so it was a lot of skilled guys.”

His time in Des Moines also helped him get seen on a regular basis by junior hockey coaches, particularly from North American Hockey League teams.

“He was down (in Missouri) at the NAHL Combine last (spring), so I was on the bench with him a bit at that,” said Ratzloff, whose Grizzlies team is among the best in the NA3HL, a tier below the NAHL. “Obviously, everyone noticed him right away. All of the (NAHL) coaches were coming down to get a closer look and going ‘this kid is huge!’

“The biggest thing for him will be working hard on the little details. If he does that, the sky’s the limit for him because he has those things a coach can’t help a kid get.”

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His high school coach agrees.

“I think he has everything in front of him for hockey, he really does,” Erredge said. “His grades are good, his teachers love him. I don’t know anyone who’ll say a bad word about him or his whole family. Just a great family, great people.

“He knows that the future is kind of up to him. He’s working out 4-5 days a week at least, at ETS (Performance Training). He’s transformed his body; he’s changing into a young man right before us. He’s still only 16, he’s still young.

“He has some work in front of him, but he’s not at all afraid to do it. His future is really up to him.”

Jason Feldman is the sports editor of the Post Bulletin. In addition to managing the four-person sports staff at the PB, Jason covers high school football, golf and high school and junior hockey. Readers can reach Jason at 507-281-7430 or jfeldman@postbulletin.com.
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