Draft for need or draft the best player available?
Staying true to what they said they’d do prior to the draft, the Dallas Stars chose the latter option on Friday night.
And boy, what a player they picked.
With the 18th overall selection in the 2019 NHL Entry Draft, the Dallas Stars chose defenseman Thomas Harley, who plays for the Mississauga Steelheads in the Ontario Hockey League.
Harley finished 14th on my pre-draft rankings and was the highest name still on that list when the Stars made their selection. In a recently compiled consensus ranking by SB Nation sister site Habs Eyes on the Prize (which included lists from Bob McKenzie, Corey Pronman and many other scouts and scouting services), Harley finished exactly 18th.
I wrote a longer profile about Harley a few weeks ago, but to give you a quick rundown about his game: he’s a 6-foot-3 left-shot blueliner with exceptional skating and puck-carrying abilities. When you add in his shot, his passing and his composure, you have all the ingredients necessary to make a successful offensive defenseman.
Some of that sure sounds familiar, doesn’t it? When the Stars picked Miro Heiskanen 3rd overall in 2017 they added a left-shot defenseman with exceptional skating and high-end offensive potential.
Is Harley the type of player that the Stars needed to add to their prospect system? As I wrote about in more detail in my Stars draft preview, not really.
But that’s OK, because Harley is a special prospect with enormous upside, and despite Jim Nill working the phones as Round 1 was unfolding and a last-minute huddle at the Stars’ draft table, that upside was simply too hard for the Stars to pass up.
Playing on the Steelheads this past season, Harley grew leaps and bounds, quickly assuming the role of #1 defenseman on the club as a 17-year-old. How did he grow so much? Logging a lot of minutes often does wonders for a prospect’s development, and Harley clocked a lot of ice time.
Thomas Harley played 30+ mins for Mississauga 21 times this year. He did not once play under 22 mins in a game. His average TOI of 28:19 was tops on the team.— Jeremy Crowe (@307x) June 8, 2019
He was also a positive in both Corsi% and scoring chance%, and was +2.4% relative in both categories. #2019NHLDraft
Read scouting reports on Harley from this past season (including mine) and you see a common refrain: a little too much passivity in how he plays, especially in his own zone.
Speaking to people about Harley behind the scenes here in Vancouver the past two days, the wide consensus is that perhaps we were all a little too hard on this aspect of his game because of just how much he played.
Every single scout I've talked to here in Vancouver since the Harley pick has loved the move for Dallas. Unanimous support— Derek Neumeier (@Derek_N_NHL) June 22, 2019
In fact, he even said in his media scrum that he purposefully dialed himself back a bit in games because he had to spread out his energy.
“A lot of (what you learn playing so many minutes) is just how to play smart. You can’t be going around, running around the ice trying to hit everybody, trying to do everything for your team. You have to be smart, conserve your energy for when you need it.”
A lot of it too, however, comes down to just who Harley is. Talking to him after the game, he oozes the same calmness and composure in person that he does when he’s out on the ice.
He also has a great sense of humor, making a pretty good quip about his demeanor.
“I see Marchand chirping these guys in the playoffs and I think it’d just make me laugh, it wouldn’t bug me at all.”
Harley is far from a perfect player, of course. Sometimes you want to see him be a little less calm and a little more engaged, and there are definitely some wrinkles about how he sees the defensive zone that will need to be ironed out over time. That being said, though, nobody else who was still on the board that the Stars could have picked is perfect, either.
But what made Harley the right pick for the Stars is just how his ceiling is. If everything goes according to plan with his development, he’s a player who could be a bonafide top-pair defenseman once he reaches his peak. It’s hard to project a comparably high ceiling for anyone else the Stars could have picked at 18 (be it Philip Tomasino, Ryan Suzuki or whoever else).
And as the #1 defenseman on a young Steelheads team that could be one of the OHL’s best two seasons from now, as well as a likely member of Canada’s roster at the next two World Junior tournaments, Harley’s development looks to be on a pretty good track.
Harley with speed through the neutral zone, flip into the offensive zone and then finds the trailer. pic.twitter.com/1npnKeLDne— Matthew DeFranks (@MDeFranks) June 22, 2019
Before Heiskanen came along, the Stars had a long drought where they struggled to add, well, star prospects, for the lack of a better term.
By drafting Harley on Friday night, it certainly seems like they’ve added another.