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Catching The Torch: What to make of the Jordan Harris situation

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Understanding the decision to return to college from the defenceman’s perspective

Boston University Vs. Northeastern University in Beanpot Championship Game Photo by Matthew J. Lee/The Boston Globe 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.

For those who haven’t heard, the Northeastern Huskies defenceman will stay with his NCAA team for his senior year. At first glance, this move is surprising, as Harris forgoes an extra year of professional hockey salary, one that could have acted as a springboard to a considerable pay increase in the NHL in a not-so-distant future.

The defenceman’s playing style, his attention to detail, and relative abilities with the puck gave us many reasons for optimism. Harris would have most likely earned a steady spot in Joël Bouchard’s defensive formation from the get-go; his assets fit the AHL game, especially Bouchard’s AHL game, a bit better than, say, a Josh Brook when he first arrived in the league.

I expected Harris to sign on the dotted line of a Canadiens contract. And I bet the defenceman was also tempted to do so at the end of the season. His decision to rejoin Northeasten for a fourth year probably took a lot of reflection.

Or maybe it didn’t.

From the start, from his very first interview with the Montreal media at the draft, Harris mentioned wanting to spend all four years at Northeastern, valuing the education and the experience of college hockey, something that was altered this season to the point of being unrecognizable. Gone were the music bands and the stands filled with fans, blasting encouragements on cue and adding a unique, colourful flavor to each weekend matchup. Cardboard cutouts of students and celebrities could hardly replace the usual lively and competitive ambiance.

When you’re really invested in a game, NCAA hockey is probably the most fun hockey to watch outside of the NHL. And this is from a spectator point of view. Imagine living it every weekend while chasing a title with a tight-knit group. It’s not hard to see why Harris might have wanted an extra taste of the experience, one last campaign that he will now proudly captain.

We can’t really speak about the strength of the Huskies yet (and after the fiasco that was my prediction of the Wisconsin Badgers bottoming out, I will abstain from such projection). But one thing we know for sure is that the their back end, led by Harris and hopefully a fully healthy and improved Jayden Struble, will be fierce, hard to escape, and capable of offensive outbursts. The pair came close to leading the team in points in the early parts of last season, and they could realistically do it in 2021-22. Northeastern can also expect steps forward from NHL draftees Sam Colangelo and Gunnarwolfe Fontaine (who still has the best name in hockey).

There are positives to the situation, even though we will not get to see Harris bleu, blanc, et rouge just yet. The main one is the benefit of the extra year on his offensive development, an aspect of his game that already took a leap forward last year, not just in terms of point total but in execution and diversity. As a junior, Harris started freezing defenders, using his skating in smarter ways, and becoming a better passer from the point.

For prospects, it is always about finding the sweet spot between being challenged and free to experiment. Even though Harris was ready for it, the AHL could have erased some of those newfound offensive schemes. The defenceman would have likely adopted a simpler “survive and adapt” style of game that wouldn’t have allowed him to continue pushing the edges of his game.

I look at Harris’s decision to stay in a bit of a neutral way. I don’t really doubt his commitment to Montreal, and the organization doesn’t have an immediate need for him anyway. Another season in college seems reasonable in those circumstances.

If Harris does end up exploring his options at the end of the season and leaves for another organization — something that he is again unlikely but within his rights to do — it has to be said that it probably won’t leave much of a hole in the organization’s prospect pool. Harris is a promising player, but at least on my ranking of young left-shot blue-liners, there are a few names ahead of him.

In the end, all an organization can do is sell their draftee on their development environment and hope they decide to commit to it.

Jakub Dobeš, G, Omaha Lancers

After a great start to the season, a series of performances that kept his save percentage above .900 — often the mark of effective goalies in the USHL — Dobeš’s stats plummeted in March. In the seven games that preceded the last weekend, his average was .827. In two of those performances, he only played part of the games, as well.

On Friday and Sunday, when the Lancers met the Fargo Force, the second-best team in the Western Conference, Dobeš was back to his solid, technically proficient self. He stood on his head, even recording his first shutout of the season by stopping Fargo’s 33 shots.

Jakub Dobeš wears #71. He is the goalie.

Dobeš remains in the top five in the USHL for save percentage and goals-against average with five games left in Omaha’s regular season.

CHL Weekly stats

Player Draft Pos League Team GP G A P
Player Draft Pos League Team GP G A P
Kaiden Guhle 2020 LD WHL Prince Albert Raiders 0 0 0 0
Gianni Faibrother 2019 LD WHL Everett Silvertips 4 0 1 1
Kieran Ruscheinski 2019 LD BCHL Salmon Arm Silverbacks 3 0 0 0

CHL season to date

Player Draft Pos League Team GP G A P
Player Draft Pos League Team GP G A P
Kaiden Guhle 2020 LD WHL Prince Albert Raiders 2 1 1 2
Gianni Faibrother 2019 LD WHL Everett Silvertips 23 1 16 17
Kieran Ruscheinski 2019 LD BCHL Salmon Arm Silverbacks 20 1 2 3

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