The Montreal Canadiens have a glaring need for a top-four, left-handed, puck-moving defenceman, so when the Northeastern Huskies were eliminated from NCAA competition, it was no surprise that Habs fans became excited with the prospect of general manager Marc Bergevin signing 2018 third-round pick Jordan Harris.
In the end, Harris, a 5-foot-11, 185-pound defenceman, chose to remain at Northeastern University for his senior year. Here is a look at some of what he faced in his decision-making process.
There was an assumption from the Canadiens’ fan base that Harris would turn pro at the end of this past season, especially after he continued his development. He was the top defenceman for his squad while scoring a point per game, with six goals and 19 points in 19 games played. He was also the quarterback for the top power-play unit.
The Canadiens could have enticed the young defenceman with offers of playing an NHL game to help burn a year off his entry-level contract (ELC) to bring him one year closer to unrestricted free agency (UFA). Yet in the end, Harris chose to remain in college.
At the time of his decision, Harris would have had to complete a 14-day quarantine; since his decision the quarantine has been cut in half to seven days. At the end of those 14 days, there weren’t going to be many games remaining in the AHL, and there are not going to be any playoffs for a Calder Cup champion, either. This lack of games may have been a factor.
Another factor is that his Northeastern Huskies just completed a disappointing season. They were highly touted, yet were unable to win the Hockey East Conference or be selected for the NCAA tournament for a shot at a national title. Nearly the entire roster is returning next season, and it is no surprise that the Huskies, including Harris, feel they have unfinished business.
A newsworthy addition to this decision-making process was the fact that Harris was named captain of the Northeastern Huskies.
Northeastern head coach Jim Madigan was on TSN Radio the day after Harris chose to stay on for his senior season. During his conversation with Chris Nilan, he addressed that choice saying;
“He wanted to grow and develop as a leader. It’s a natural progression for him. We’re thrilled with what he brings as a leader and we know he can lead us back to the championship levels we expect.”Jim Madigan
The lack of games over the last year was also a factor in the decision. Having only played 19 games this season is less than ideal for a player about to make the leap to professional hockey.
While some fans on social media would note that young men could finish their education over time after they turn pro, they don’t take into account the difficulties of doing distance learning or continuing education while balancing the needs of a career, and eventually a family. It is no surprise that with any uncertainty, especially in scheduling due to a pandemic, a young man would fall back on the familiar and want to complete his education. Coach Madigan pointed that out in his TSN interview (Off the Cuff, TSN Radio, 22 March) stating:
“We had a fraction of a season. He wanted to do things the right way and to graduate too.”Jim Madigan
In his decision to stay in school, Harris was thoughtful and methodical. He seems to have based it all on finishing what he started with the program. Obviously, being given a key leadership role with one last opportunity to win a national title didn’t hurt, either.
Due to the pandemic, it was a difficult season in which he only played 19 games. So far in his hockey career, he has taken a patient approach, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that after taking a week to discuss this decision with his family and advisors, he would take that approach before embarking on his professional career. Harris will want to be ready physically and mentally for the leap to the professional ranks.
Harris is likely already prepared to play professionally. That being said, it’s never been mentioned that a player has ruined their development by playing too long in the minors or the NCAA, but they have been ruined by making a leap too soon.
A significant point to be factored into looking at his decision, the lack of remaining games in the AHL season after his 14-day quarantine would have left him with 12 games. That would have been a grand total of 31 games between the AHL and NCAA, a pittance in comparison to a normal season. It could be argued, and Harris chose that route in deciding on college, that that is not enough for his development.
Another point to consider is internal competition. How many of those games could he have legitimately been dressed for? With Laval’s extended roster and eight defenders ready to call upon, he may have seen less opportunity for playing time.
Harris will sign his contract next season, and he will be ready to play in the AHL. Internal competition as a left-handed defenceman in the Canadiens system will be tight, as there is a long list of young defencemen in direct competition for future NHL jobs in Montreal.
This will cause some fans in Montreal to panic — Harris could be at risk of waiting for Aug. 15, 2022, when he can become an unrestricted free agent (UFA) and leave the Canadiens organization. Names of notable NCAA UFAs such as Justin Shultz, Adam Fox or Kevin Hayes will come to mind, yet they are the exception to the rule, as most players will sign with the organizations that drafted them. Yet, that doubt will be there, and it is understandable. However, Madigan addressed this issue in his TSN interview on March 22, stating:
“He has never said anything negative about the Canadiens organization, on the contrary. I know he has great respect for the organization and the people he has dealt with there. I think about Rob Ramage who has visited us so often the last three years I lost count. His (Jordan Harris) decision is based purely on what can make him a better pro and it it has nothing negative to do with the Montreal Canadiens.”Jim Madigan
While Harris will likely choose the best path for his long-term development as a hockey player, the doubt about his future as a Canadien will be talked about all year until he finally signs an NHL contract. It is to be expected that his name will be put into every trade rumor or discussion on message boards and social media due to this doubt, as well as the left-handed defensive prospect depth.
Signing as a UFA elsewhere won’t provide him any extra money, as he will only be able to sign an ELC. The only benefits to choosing another organization would be more playing time or an easier path to the NHL, yet so far, no one can say Harris has chosen the easy path in any decision thus far.
When Aug. 15, 2022 hits — the deadline to sign Jordan Harris before he can become a UFA — it is more than likely he will be joining the Canadiens organization and begin his professional career with the Laval Rocket. He will have significant competition, yet his choice to take one more season to work on his game may prove to be the one that helps him win an NHL job sooner rather than later.
I have been a writer covering the NHL and the Montreal Canadiens for over 6 years. I am also currently a 27+ year veteran of the Canadian Armed Forces