Name: Thomas Harley
Team: Mississauga Steelheads (OHL)
Stats: 68 games played, 11 goals, 47 assists, 58 points, 24 PIMs, -15 plus/minus rating
NHL Central Scouting ranking: 11th (North American Skaters)
Comparable NHL player: Jake Gardiner
Few members of the 2019 draft class boosted their stock throughout this past season more than defenseman Thomas Harley did.
For a prime example of that, look no further than how Hockey Canada’s assessment of him evolved.
Last summer, the organization invited 14 different defensemen to their under-18 selection camp prior to the Hlinka Gretzky Cup — Harley wasn’t a member of the group. Fast forward to this past April’s IIHF U18s and not only was Harley on the Canadian squad, he was also one of their most frequently used blueliners, quarterbacking their top power play and logging a lot of minutes.
Talk about making a big step forward.
Hockey Canada aren’t the only ones who noticed the enormous progression in Harley’s game over the course of the season. His play was so good that the scouting community at large couldn’t help but stop and take notice.
When it comes to tools, Harley’s toolbox is overflowing. He’s a gorgeous skater with light feet, good agility, and long, powerful strides. He gets up to speed quickly and can easily gain separation from opponents. To make things more enticing, he also has firm puck control and a knack for receiving passes while in motion, so when you combine those elements with his skating he becomes a major threat at carrying the puck up the ice and through traffic.
Offensively, he displays advanced offensive awareness and passing for a defenseman. He keeps his head up at the blue line and analyzes the situation before making a play, usually with great success. He also likes to roam the offensive zone looking for chances and picks his spots well. His shooting mechanics are well above average for a defender, and they’re only going to get better as he adds more muscle to his frame.
Speaking of his frame, it also helps add a lot to Harley’s potential. He’s 6-foot-3 and has a good wingspan, allowing him a lot of reach with his stick. He’s still a little skinny, but it’s not a bad thing, as there will be plenty of time for him to hit the gym and work with strength and conditioning coaches.
Mixing all of those positive attributes together into one package, it’s no surprise whatsoever that Harley became Mississauga’s number one defenseman at just 17 years of age.
However, there are still some elements of Harley’s game that are big question marks: his consistency, defensive game, and ability to handle pressure, chief among them.
There are times when Harley is active and engaged and making all kinds of good things happen, but he’ll often go through stretches where he gets too passive and lets the play unfold around him. That’s not the end of the world in the offensive zone, but it’s not something you want to see from a defender in his own zone. Sometimes he just looks out of his element while defending, coughing up the puck with a soft pass, getting danced by a speedy opposing forward, or failing to cover the correct guy as his team’s defensive coverage breaks down. Don’t expect him to utilize his frame much, either, as the physical side to his game is severely lacking.
Even more concerning, this seems to happen the most when the heat gets turned up around him. Sometimes players break under pressure, while other times they simply bend. Right now, Harley falls into the former category more often than he should.
As notable as it was for Harley to make Canada’s team for the April U18 event, his performance there left a little something to be desired. He impressed early in the tournament, but then failed to make much of an impact in the final games as Canada failed to medal.
When he reaches the NHL level, just how well will Harley be able to handle the extra intensity and pressures of a long playoff series? At this point in time, it’s hard to say. Some young star players develop the thick skin needed to persevere in hockey’s toughest moments, some don’t.
That being said, there’s simply far too much to like about Harley to let his name slide too far down the big draft board come June. Athletic, tools-y defensemen with his size and skating don’t come around very often, so teams usually scoop them up and worry about ironing out the wrinkles over time. And perhaps those wrinkles were magnified in Harley’s draft year because he played so many minutes on a team that wasn’t particularly good.
Harley bounces around various draft rankings a lot, but there’s a very real chance that he’ll still be available when the Dallas Stars pick at 18. If he is, he might be impossible for the Stars to pass up. Even though they can already pencil in Miro Heiskanen and Esa Lindell down the left side for the foreseeable future, not many players in this entire draft can match Harley’s long-term upside.