Thomas Harley: An NHL Prospect to Watch

Currently competing in his rookie Ontario Hockey League campaign, Thomas Harley of the Mississauga Steelheads has developed into a prospect to watch for a multitude of reasons.

Eligible for the 2019 NHL Entry Draft, Harley’s game has continued to grow by leaps and bounds throughout the 2017-18 OHL season. As a first-round choice of the Steelheads in the 2017 OHL Priority Selection — 14th overall — Harley’s composed game and confidence with the puck has earned him valuable ice time within a veteran-laden Mississauga roster. Further, Harley’s exceptional play earned him a place in the 2018 Under-17 World Hockey Championship as a member of Team Canada Black.

Although he has an additional OHL campaign remaining prior to his potential selection by an NHL franchise next June, the time has come to profile one of next season’s most promising young defencemen.

The Scouting Report

What makes Harley such a valuable and promising young defender, you ask?

Well, for the native of Syracuse, New York, his game is founded upon his smooth skating and ability to process plays as they develop at a rapid pace.

Harley’s Defensive Game

In the defensive zone is where Harley’s true value as a prospect lays.

Rarely, if ever, pressured into making mistakes, Harley owns incredible composure and boasts the ability to out-wait the forecheck of opposing forwards in order to complete safe and calculated breakouts passes. Further, considerably strong on his skates given his 6-foot-2, 170-pound frame, Harley is extremely difficult to knock off of the puck and owns the unique ability to use the physicality of his opposition to his advantage.

Thomas Harley Mississauga Steelheads
Harley’s defensive responsibility and offensive upside combined to make him a first-round pick of the Steelheads. (Aaron Bell/OHL Images)

What’s more is that Harley knows how to utilize his own size. Although he doesn’t deliver punishing body-checks, Harley pushes opposing forwards to the boards and can pin them with ease in order to jostle the puck loose. Aided by a quick and accurate stick, Harley dis-possesses his opposition with regularity and has little issue skating the puck to safety.

While adding greater strength this offseason would certainly bode well for Harley and his play defensively, the youngster’s ability to read plays as they develop and react accordingly has made him a stingy OHL defender at the age of just 16-years.

Harley’s Offensive Game

Harley’s offensive game is growing. The key word here is growing.

Although he recorded a respectable number of points in his minor midget season with the Kings — five goals and 24 points in 33 games played — Harley’s offensive game has yet to fully translate to the OHL-level. Yes, he nabbed one goal and 15 points in 62 contests this season, however, Harley’s elite skating ability and vision should allow him to achieve much greater offensive totals in the near future.

As mentioned previously, Harley is an individual of impeccable on-ice vision. This strength allows Harley to see the rink and the ever-changing locations of his teammates extremely well. Standing as a trademark of his game, it is this vision which allows Harley to execute pinpoint passes with ease. Sparsely utilized on the power play this season, Harley’s increased role in special teams play next year could lead to a spike in his point production.

And, while he will likely never become a 30-goal scorer in the OHL like fellow teammate Nic Hague, Harley could come to stand as a pillar on the Steelheads’ blue line and power play owing to his exceptional passing abilities.

What’s more is that, as mentioned earlier, Harley is a tremendous skater. His ability and willingness to join the rush makes him an additional offensive option. With his desire to rush the puck having increased of late, Harley will surely focus on improving his offensive game, and especially so considering his confidence and abilities have continued to grow and broaden.

A New Age Defenceman

The National Hockey League was long dominated by defenders of immense size, strength, and physicality.

In fact, players such as Scott Stevens, Chris Pronger, and Rob Blake would instill fear in their opposition, as any and all players who attempted to dislodge the puck from these towers were quickly put on the seat of their pants.

However, in recent years, defencemen at the NHL-level have endured a remarkable transition. Long gone are players whose game’s were based solely upon physicality and in are individuals of greater skating, shooting, and playmaking abilities. In fact, the most notable defencemen in the game today are all of smaller stature and greater skill, with perhaps none more so than Erik Karlsson of the Ottawa Senators.

Ottawa Senators, Erik Karlsson
The NHL has come to covet highly skilled defenders, regardless of their size. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Now, although Harley may not be the next Karlsson, his smooth, skillful, and agile playing style should bode well at the NHL-level. While he still faces a great deal of personal development ahead, Harley’s ability to see the ice and traverse it with ease will continue to draw interest from multiple NHL organizations. If his offensive game can continue to grow next season in addition to his composed defending, Harley will undoubtedly hear his name called during the 2019 NHL Draft.

Exactly when could Harley be selected?

Well, let’s tackle this question following the 2018-19 OHL campaign, once Harley has concretely established himself as a premier young defender and can’t miss NHL prospect.