When a top prospect returns to a major junior league after pushing hard for a spot in the NHL, that player’s head coach gets an extra spring in their step, while coaches on other teams sweat a little knowing that their matchups just got harder.
James Richmond, the head coach of the OHL’s Mississauga Steelheads, didn’t want to waste any time before getting Thomas Harley back into his team’s lineup after the Dallas Stars’ 2019 first-rounder was sent down from the NHL near the end of training camp.
“He didn’t even know when his flight was,” said Steelheads coach James Richmond. “His flight got in earlier than expected, so I told him if he could get here before warm up, he could play. As he was walking in the door, the horn went (for the end of warm up).”
It’s easy to understand why. Harley more than held his own and looked right at home against NHL talent during the preseason. However, playing defense for a full season in the NHL as an 18-year-old is an enormous feat to accomplish, so the Stars made the safe play with Harley’s development, sending him back to the OHL while knowing full well that he would excel against competition in that league.
And so far, excel he has.
The athletic 6-foot-3 blueliner has produced four straight two-point games since returning to the OHL, for a total of eight points in four games. He’s also currently riding a three-game goal streak.
One of the biggest reasons for keeping young prospects around for an extended length of training camp, even if the team has no intention of the player cracking the final roster, is letting the youngster spend time around established NHLers and get an up-close look at what it takes to succeed at the sport’s highest level.
Harley, who was named the OHL’s scholastic player of the year for 2018-19, is apparently quite a good learner.
Harley went into Dallas’ training camp looking to learn from elite defenders such as John Klingberg and Miro Heiskanen. He had a chance to play with the duo and took pride in being able to earn more than 20 minutes of ice time in a few games.
“Not to sound cliché, but I was just soaking everything in,” he said.
“(I saw) how they prepare on a day-to-day basis, the effort they put into warm ups and cool downs, how much time they spend on the ice during practice and working on their individual stuff.”
If his hot start is any indication of how his whole season is going to go, the rest of the OHL will be hoping and praying that this year in juniors will be Harley’s last.
North American Juniors
Kitchener Rangers center Riley Damiani has himself quite a weekend, scoring a hat trick in a win on Friday and then adding two helpers in another victory for his team on Sunday. He has points in all five games he’s played in this season, for a total of 10.
After profiling him in the previous edition of this column, Ty Dellandrea had another good week for Flint, picking up four points in two games as the Firebirds came away with a win and a loss.
Blueliner Dawson Barteaux picked up three assists as he helped lead his Red Deer Rebels squad to three straight wins. He’s now up to six points in seven games thus far.
Defenseman Samuel Sjolund, who was the second player selected by the Stars in the 2019 draft after Harley (fourth round, 111th overall), made the roster for AIK in the Allsvenskan out of training camp and has stuck around since, which is pretty good for an 18-year-old. He has one assist, 12 shots on net and an average TOI of 11:53 through seven games.
Swedish defender Jakob Stenqvist recently picked up his first point since making the move to Finland. Video of the assist can be found in the first goal of these highlights. Through nine games he is averaging 17:21 of ice time per contest, fifth among blueliners on Assat.
It was a less-than-ideal opening weekend of the Texas Stars’ 2019-20 season, as they dropped a 2-0 decision to the Tucson Roadrunners on Friday before being outgunned by the Manitoba Moose on Saturday by a score of 5-3.
Goaltender Landon Bow kept things close in Friday’s contest, stopping 26 of 28 shots in a goalie duel against Antti Raanta, who, unluckily for Texas, was just in the AHL for a one-game conditioning stint.
Texas found the score sheet three times on Saturday, including Jason Robertson’s first goal of his professional career, but gave up the deciding tally late in the third. Jake Oettinger stopped 31 of 35 shots, including some dazzlers, while Adam Mascherin had two helpers.
In a good bit of news, Joe Cecconi, who missed the Traverse City Prospect Tournament and then all of preseason after recovering from offseason surgery, finally made his return to the ice.