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Catching The Torch: Jordan Harris is showing greater offensive potential

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The defenceman always had a sturdy defensive game, but he’s beginning to have more of an impact at the opposite end of the ice.

COLLEGE HOCKEY: FEB 03 Beanpot Tournament - Northeastern v Harvard Photo by Fred Kfoury III/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Each week we take an in-depth look at young members of the organization while providing an overview of Montreal Canadiens prospects playing at the Junior (OHL, WHL), and collegiate (NCAA) level.

The Canadiens’ group of defence prospects keeps getting better. That’s partly because the team continues to add to its pool, amassing a ton of draft picks, but also because the prospects selected continue taking significant steps forward every season. Jordan Harris is no exception.

The Northeastern Huskies’ offence has come from the back end this season. Both Jayden Struble and Harris feature in the team’s top three point-producers. Struble’s offensive inclinations were clear last year. You could predict the jump in production with the added confidence, an injury-free season, more minutes, and more power-play opportunities. But Harris didn’t receive the same boosts; he was already getting every opportunity to score in his sophomore year and you can only play a defenceman so much during a game. (Although Jim Madigan has stretched the limit of that in a few contests this season). And yet, Harris’s point pace has shot up again this year.

The defenceman has turned himself into an effective and even borderline creative quarterback these last few months, borrowing many elements that make fellow Habs prospect Struble successful.

The main changes in Harris’s offensive game are increased poise and the time he holds on to the puck before sliding it over. That extra half-second he spends selling a shot, the way he commits to his firing position, helps him freeze defenders and open up passing lanes to better-positioned teammates.

Jordan Harris wears #2 with the Northeastern Huskies

In his first two years in college, Harris was a trigger-happy defenceman, shooting from the point to score or, more often, to set up tips for net-front teammates. He would activate from his blue-line position for backdoor plays and carried the puck on the periphery of the zone, but his incursions lacked planning. He simply skated down, hoping he would find his play along the way.

Now, the defenceman knows where he is moving and why. He shifts the defensive box and captures the attention of defenders to erase teammates from their vision. He doesn’t give away the positions of his fellow attackers as he makes sure to keep his gaze fixed on the net or on another, less threatening pass option.

The defenceman’s execution is not as crisp and timely as Struble’s, but the deceptive elements remain just as projectable to the professional game. In the AHL, Harris probably won’t be dangling defenders and stepping around them to create high-danger shots every shifts — in fact, it is probable that we never see him dangle — but if he keeps improving his puck-distribution, a position on the Laval power play could open up for him, especially since he also possesses the ‘’safe’’ defensive qualities that coaches like, to guard their man advantage from short-handed attacks.

Another element that Harris improved? His transition game. I didn’t see a single dump or rim from him in that game against Connecticut. If a play wasn’t there, Harris created it, bulldozing his way through the forecheck if needed with an unusual physicality. He cross-checked opponents to create a pocket of space in which to catch the puck, held them on his back with one hand while handling and passing to teammates with the other, and invited hits to steal momentum from the opposition.

That last element is an advanced puck-moving technique that didn’t feature at all in Harris’s game previously. You can see the sequence in question in the video below (the second clip).

In that sequence, Harris scans the ice as he descends to retrieve a puck on the back wall. He has no immediate option so he stops on the puck, turns his back toward an incoming forechecker, and braces himself for contact. Why? To buy time for his teammates to get in position. The hit pushes Harris into space, allowing him to separate from the opponent, get his hands free, move up ice, and finally connect with a teammate to move the puck out of the zone.

This clip shows his developing desire to control the flow of the play, to make life easier for teammates instead of just dumping or rimming the puck to them when they are themselves pressured by opponents, something he had a tendency to do in previous years. Against Connecticut, the defenceman literally carried the breakout on his back.

There are arguably more signs of progress in Harris’s game between this current year and his sophomore season than between his sophomore and freshman ones. Of course, a lot of technical work remains for the defenceman before we can call him an NHLer, things like leveraging his weight along the boards, the precision of his handles, and even the speed of his forward stride, but if there were any doubts left that he is ready for the AHL game, this year erased them.

Canadiens prospects taking over leaderboards

The Canadiens’ presence on American hockey leaderboards is strong. Cole Caufield has been nominated for the Hobey Baker fan vote and currently leads the NCAA in goals (five more than his closest pursuer) and total points. Sean Farrell leads the USHL in points and total assists (eight more than the next closest player). And goaltender Jakub Dobes tops the USHL in save percentage.

NCAA/USHL weekly stats

Player Draft Pos League Team GP G A P
Player Draft Pos League Team GP G A P
Cole Caufield 2019 RW Big Ten Wisconsin 0 0 0 0
Jack Gorniak 2018 LW Big Ten Wisconsin 0 0 0 0
Sean Farrell 2020 LW USHL Chicago 2 0 1 1
Rhett Pitlick 2019 LW USHL Tri-City 0 0 0 0
Jack Smith 2020 C USHL Sioux Falls 0 0 0 0
Jayden Struble 2019 LD Hockey East Northeastern 0 0 0 0
Jordan Harris 2018 LD Hockey East Northeastern 0 0 0 0
Brett Stapley 2018 C NCHC Denver 0 0 0 0
Blake Biondi 2020 C NCHC Minnesota-Duluth 0 0 0 0
Luke Tuch 2020 LW Hockey East Boston 0 0 0 0

NCAA/USHL Season to date

Player Draft Pos League Team GP G A P
Player Draft Pos League Team GP G A P
Cole Caufield 2019 RW Big Ten Wisconsin 31 30 22 52
Jack Gorniak 2018 LW Big Ten Wisconsin 31 6 7 13
Sean Farrell 2020 LW USHL Chicago 53 29 72 101
Sean Farrell (playoffs) 2020 LW USHL Chicago 6 1 4 5
Rhett Pitlick 2019 LW USHL Muskegon/Tri-City 43 13 21 34
Jack Smith 2020 C USHL Sioux Falls 47 7 6 13
Jayden Struble 2019 LD Hockey East Northeastern 18 2 10 12
Jordan Harris 2018 LD Hockey East Northeastern 19 6 13 19
Brett Stapley 2018 C NCHC Denver 13 5 4 9
Blake Biondi 2020 C NCHC Minnesota-Duluth 25 2 3 5
Luke Tuch 2020 LW Hockey East Boston 16 6 5 11

Goalie weekly stats

Player Draft year League Team Record GAA Sv% SO
Player Draft year League Team Record GAA Sv% SO
Jakub Dobes 2020 USHL Omaha 0-2-0 2.10 0.923 0

Goalie Season to date

Player Draft year League Team Record GAA Sv% SO
Player Draft year League Team Record GAA Sv% SO
Jakub Dobes 2020 USHL Omaha 26-16-2-1 2.48 0.908 2
Jakub Dobes (playoffs) 2020 USHL Omaha 0-2-0 2.10 0.923 0