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Is Thomas Harley a Dark Horse Roster Candidate for the Dallas Stars?

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The Stars’ first round pick has impressed in training camp, but that doesn’t mean he’s ready for the NHL.

St Louis Blues v Dallas Stars Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Dallas Stars head coach Jim Montgomery turned some heads this past weekend with the following quote:

In short, Thomas Harley has greatly impressed the coaching staff this training camp. Fans got to see the 2019 first-round pick for themselves on Monday, and the defenseman didn't disappoint. His 20:00 ice time mark was third on the team behind only John Klingberg and Esa Lindell, and his 19:47 even-strength minutes led both the Stars and the St. Louis Blues.

Originally, Harley was expected to stick around in Dallas for a week or two before being loaned back to the Mississauga Steelheads in the OHL. But thanks to some holes opening up on the Dallas blue line, some are wondering if Harley could actually make the NHL roster.

To those people, I ask that you hold your proverbial dark horses. First of all, the Stars’ biggest concern on defense is which player will round out the Top 4 alongside John Klingberg, Esa Lindell, and Miro Heiskanen. Harely won’t solve that problem — asking a 17 year old who was just drafted as a mid-first rounder to do that is just downright silly.

Instead, Harley would be playing on the third defensive pair if he made the NHL squad. But Dallas doesn’t necessarily have an issue with that pairing — between players like Andrej Sekera, Roman Polak, Jamie Oleksiak, Taylor Fedun, and others, there’s no real shortage of potential third pairing defensemen in Dallas.

Of course, one of those players will end up in the Top 4, and Harley could, in theory, potentially outplay all of the others. Still, were Harley to make the NHL squad, he would likely play limited, sheltered minutes. But then there’s the question of what’s best for Harley’s development: limited playing time in the NHL or potential “domination” in the OHL?

That being said, if Harley is clearly one of the Stars’ best six defensemen — i.e. not a healthy scratch candidate — then it’s in the team’s best interest to keep him in Dallas. If there’s any doubt as to whether he is or not, they could always play him in up to nine regular season games without burning a year on his ELC.

Still, this is shaping up to be similar to the Ty Dellandrea situation. Even if Harley is ready to “graduate” from the OHL, he’s not necessarily ready for NHL action, impressive preseason showing or not. That said, Harley is a fair bit younger than Dellandrea, too. But look on the bright side — if Harley is already knocking on the NHL door, then Dallas is set up to have a very scary blue line in the foreseeable future. Even if that door isn’t open this year, at least Harley knows where to find it.