Before the Montreal Canadiens went on a blitz at the 2019 NHL Draft selecting left-handed defencemen, they added two in 2018 in an event otherwise spent adding centres. The two were Alexander Romanov, chosen in the second round, and Jordan Harris in the third. Both are ranked in our list of the top young players in the organization for the first time this year, with Harris starting off the official countdown.
Drafted out of high school (with a brief stint in the USHL), Harris spent his 2018-19 season in the NCAA with Northeastern University. He played 39 as a freshman, seeing a significant portion of his minutes on the top pairing.
Those top minutes were played on the flank of Jeremy Davies, one of the top defencemen in the collegiate ranks last year. Davies is also a left-hand shot, and seniority allowed him to be the one to play his natural side. If the increase in competition and playing on the main duo weren’t enough of a learning curve for Harris, having to play on the right side would have provided more of a challenge.
Being neutralized somewhat with his new position, Harris was still able to be an effective member of the team, showing promising development in his supporting role.
Harris split the panel into two distinct groups. Some of us are confident that he will continue to progress along his NHL path and placed him relatively deep into the Top 25 (the EOTP community vote included). Others aren’t yet convinced that he’s on that trajectory and ranked him several spots out.
Harris ranks second of the two players finishing in a tie for 25th because of a lower top ranking (17th versus 16th).
Top 25 Under 25 History
He rises five places from his slot at 30th last season. That initial position itself was no mean feat considering he had played the year in high school and was not just a third-round pick, but the sixth selection the Canadiens made in 2018.
The talent that stood out to any scout attending one of Kimball Union Academy’s games in 2017-18 was Harris’s skating ability. He can race up and down the ice with an effortless stride, sticking out from the majority of his peers on that talent alone.
He doesn’t just possess straight-line speed, but exceptional mobility that allows him to change direction in a flash and accelerate out of traffic areas. With the ability to easily recover into the proper position, he has the confidence to stray from his typical position to make plays.
On the defensive side, he’ll go into the corner or behind the net and use his stick to gain control of the puck, then push himself away from the forecheckers and peel out the other side, building up speed for the breakout. He prefers a controlled transition game, and is very confident when in possession of the puck. He always has his head up to find a player in an advanced position to move the puck to.
Those abilities are on diplay in the video below put together by EOTP’s David St-Louis (Harris is wearing #2 in white).
Many opposition rushes don’t even get into his zone, as his mobility and active stick turn forwards back as they approach the blue line. Good gap control usually keeps Harris between the net and his opponent, forcing the attacker to look to other teammates to keep the play going.
When a forward does get around Harris’s coverage, the defenceman isn’t as effective at preventing him from getting to the net. Harris’s speed will allow him to keep pace with any player, but he doesn’t yet have his angles down and can get beaten by taking a poor path to the near post.
He doesn’t have the size to prevent opponents from getting around him in close quarters. At 5’11” and 185 pounds, he doesn’t have the physicality to battle directly with players keen on powering their way to the net.
When he gets the puck he can be a fraction of a second slow when making decisions. He’s usually manoeuvred himself far away from the opposition to buy himself that extra bit of time, but the execution will need to become quicker if he is to reach his full potential.
Despite being a gifted skater, Harris doesn’t really put those skills to use in his offensive game. He will skate the puck up through the neutral zone, but then seems happy to just to keep the puck in the offensive zone and let the forwards do the work rather than getting directly involved himself. That desire to keep the play alive sometimes leads to poorly timed pinches, and then not even his great speed is enough to recover on the breaks that result.
With the puck on his stick, he either moves it down low or tosses it on net hoping for a rebound. At the beginning of the year, he would often do that even with no real presence in front of the net, usually just giving the goaltender a chance to freeze the puck.
Even with that limited offensive game he still finished tied for 20th among Hockey East defencemen (fourth among freshmen) and 14th in assists. He doesn’t have a quality release, and therefore scored just one goal, but funnelling pucks toward the net did allow him to record 12 assists.
The good news is his offensive game was becoming more dynamic toward the end of the season. He wasn’t just throwing pucks at the net but waiting for traffic to form before getting the puck into the slot area, even joining a few rushes in support of his forwards. The result was four assists in his last seven games; some positive reinforcement for his more involved actions and something for him to build upon for the 2019-20 season.
He won’t have his first-year defence partner to play alongside in his sophomore season. Davies signed his entry-level contract with the New Jersey Devils at the end of the year (later sent to the Nashville Predators in the P.K. Subban trade). That does mean Harris will likely have to do more work on his pairing, but also means he may get more time on his natural left side. He’ll move from a supporting role to being a lead actor, and that should promote more of the assertive play seen from him to end the season.
He should get plenty of time to develop his game in the NCAA. With so many options in the system at his position, the Canadiens have no reason to get him to end his collegiate career early, and therefore he could play all four years of his eligibility. He just turned 19 on July 7 (the eighth-youngest player in this series), and has plenty of time to work on his skill set.
When he does get ready to turn professional, perhaps in three years’ time, he will likely be projected for a bottom-pairing role in the NHL. His offensive game may not blossom to the level needed for him to become a legitimate standalone top-four option, but he could move up the lineup to play with a more complementary player.
That sounds similar to the role Victor Mete is playing with the Canadiens right now, and the NHL defender is probably a good comparable for Harris at this point. They play very similar games that rely on speed and stickwork above physicality, while neither has much of an offensive game. The hope is that Harris (and Mete as well for that matter) can combine his various skills to chip in a little bit of offence and increase his effectiveness.