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2019 NHL Draft prospect profile: Thomas Harley is a modern day NHL defenceman

Harley should see his name called on Friday.

Luke Durda/OHL Images

Thomas Harley was the main piece of Mississauga’s defence this season. The coaching staff trusted him to counter the opposing team’s top players, on the penalty kill and also on the first unit of the power play. He was always on the ice — even playing up to 30 minutes in certain games and was used to level the playing field when the Steelheads met some of the top teams of the OHL.

Birthplace: Syracuse, New York, USA
Date of birth: August 19, 2001
Shoots: Left
Position: Defence
Height: 6’3”
Weight: 192 lbs.
Team: Mississauga Steelheads (OHL)

As a result of his ice time, Harley earned more than his share of opportunity to write his name on the scoresheet. And score he did. He put up 58 points in 68 games, which had him lead the OHL in numbers for U18 defenceman and finish second in total to Bowen Byram in the entire CHL.

EliteProspects

Most of Harley’s production came from the power play; he was its quarterback from the point.

Harley might be 6’3’’ but he has the elusive skating of many of his smaller counterparts. It makes him especially effective at the top of the offensive zone. He can pick up speed with crossovers walking the blue-line, draw defenders in and beat them timely moves to slide further into the offensive zone; or open himself up as he goes down the wall to find seams in which to thread passes to the slot.

The defenceman is often bold in his offensive attempts. His superior handling abilities allows him to be that audacious. He sometimes will exchange positions with his forwards and make plays from below the goal-line and can also rush the puck the entire length of the ice, dangling through the neutral zone when the opposing team makes the mistake of giving him the space to pick-up speed in his end.

Harley can also play a more conservative type of offence: distribute the puck, move around and look for an opening for his shot. He isn’t one of those booming release defenceman, but instead always takes the space given to him at the top of the zone, preferring to get closer to the net to find holes in the goalie’s coverage to send the puck into.

But the prospect’s offence isn’t really where his game shines the most, or at least projects to be the most effective at the next level. It’s in his puck-moving abilities that he stands out.

From Mitch Brown’s CHL tracking project

Harley scores very highly in all categories related to transitioning the puck from zone to zone in Mitch Brown’s CHL tracking project. He looks to create controlled breakouts and enter the offensive zone with possession the overwhelming majority of the time, and he succeeds in doing so at a very high level.

For Harley, it once again comes down to his skating and handling ability. He makes good use of his edges and can separate from forecheckers with his speed as he looks to carry the puck across the defensive blue-line. In the same way he attracts defenders at the point in the offensive zone, he can draw forecheckers in, fake a move to one side, and turn the other way as the opposition skates in the wrong direction. The defenceman’s frame — even if he doesn’t yet have the balance and strength to make even better use of it — can also help him protect the puck as he attempts to move it off the back boards.

Thomas Harley wears #48 with the Mississsauga Steelheads and #4 with Team Canada at the World Junior Under-18 Tournament.

Plus, Harley can bypass opponents with indirect feeds (using the boards for example ) or lobbing the puck up the ice, and can pass with his backhand and forehand just as well. What helps his success rate is that he often chooses to wait at the last second to do so as opponents collapse to the puck, extending the passing lane and further freeing his teammates from coverage.

Simply, with the puck on his stick, Harley comes alive. He loves to create for his team and push the play up the ice. But it’s his play away from the puck that draws question marks.

It’s inconsistent. On certain nights, he alternates between being too passive, looking disengaged as he glides upright in and around the slot in his end; and being too aggressive in trying to pry away the puck from opponents. The defenceman has a tendency to take a few steps to challenge attackers head on while they face him, using sweeping pokechecks; this way rendering himself vulnerable against some of more talented handlers of the OHL.

But Harley has arguably just as many good defensive moments. He shows himself capable of reading the play well, even anticipates a couple of moves ahead. He can also engage physically and with his stick in ways to completely neutralize the options of opponents at times. And even in his defensive mistakes, the blue-liner can often correct himself with his superior skating ability and range.

Here are some sequences that encompasses the good and the bad of Harley’s defensive game and some of the elements mentioned above.

Learning to tune the risk management part of his game to different situations will continue to be a process for him, but overall Harley remains a net positive player for his team every-time he steps on the ice — why he is used so much by his coach. What he misses defensively, he makes up for with a strong breakout under pressure or a great look at the offensive end of the ice. And there is no indication that Harley couldn’t make some of the already effective defensive elements of his game sound habits as he matures.

It’s somewhat cliché but it remains true: he is one of the youngest players in the draft and he still has room to fill his tall frame. His game likely has the potential to develop more than many of his counterparts, who also didn’t have the steep ascent to the important role he occupied this season with the Steelheads.

Final Rankings

Button/TSN: #11
Dobber Prospects: #16
Elite Prospects: #20
Future Considerations: #18
Hockey Prospect: #19
McKenzie/TSN: #17
NHL Central Scouting: #11 (NA skaters)
Pronman/The Athletic: #20

On top of being one of the prospects perceived to have more potential growth, Harley’s game is very interesting for the modern NHL. He has all the tools organizations could want in a defenceman. He comes with some risk, and didn’t have the best showing at the World Under-18 Championship, but it would be surprising to see him fall much lower than pick #20 on the first day of the NHL Draft due to his great upside.