All year-long, one of the more prominent story lines to watch for was who would end up being considered the second best defensemen in the 2019 NHL draft after potential top-5 pick Bowen Byram. Obviously opinions will still differ on this topic, but for me, Thomas Harley has asserted himself as the second best defensemen, although it didn’t come easy. I’ve only come to this conclusion at the end of the process, with much self debate taking place during the middle of it all.
Harley wound up in this position because of how he continued to get better throughout the year. The Mississauga Steelhead is a smooth, effortless skater who can contribute at both ends of the ice. He finally convinced me of his talents after an impressive showing at the U18s, but his entire track record is quite inspiring.
|Birthday||August 19, 2001|
Skating: 55 – Puck Skills: 55 – Hockey IQ/Sense: 60 – Physicality: 60
Harley played big minutes for the Steelheads. He was their workhorse, receiving 25-30 minutes a night once he established himself. Considering he went from a possible top-100 pick to a legitimate top prospect, you can definitely say he took full advantage of his opportunity. He displayed poise and control of the game from the back-end. He was able to dictate play by having a strong impact on multiple aspects of the game.
Harley breaks out the puck out very well, be it with a first pass or skating it out himself. He has the skating ability to take it upon himself and start a rush up ice. His long stride makes it possible for him to get up-ice very quickly. His stride as a whole is beautiful, being so smooth and light on his feet. Despite being a bigger sized defensemen he doesn’t have a very heavy step, which is a huge positive. I love the balance he has found to create offense while also respecting his defensive responsibilities. Harley is a high hockey IQ player, so he reads when to jump up very well based on the open ice he can find.
He can finish off plays, find the open man, or hold onto the puck to extend the play once he breaks into the offensive zone. That kind of transition offense is key in top pair defensemen. Harley is capable of creating so much with both his feet and mind. That type of combination has eluded many other defensemen from this class. Looking at some of the other D-men I have listed behind Harley, Philip Broberg and William Constantinou are exceptional skaters but have questionable decision-making, Moritz Seider and Ville Heinola don’t have the pure puck skills to make highly skilled plays. Harley is sort of the best of both worlds. He has above-average skating and intelligent decision-making, and while neither is as high-end as the strengths of the aforementioned names, they are all quite good.
Looking at that, there is a lot of reason to see why Harley is the much more complete defensemen.
What also stands out is when Harley joins the attack, rather than lead it. I find his pinches and step ups to be very calculated, which is another sign of his high hockey IQ.
Harley’s play away from the puck is one of his strong suits. He knows how to compliment the play, which is easier said then done.
His great play culminated into a fantastic statistical season. Harley scored 11 goals and 58 points in 68 games. As an August 2001 birthday that is an impressive stat-line. He is one of the youngest players in the draft, and especially considering he is a D-man, his developmental curve should take longer than most. But you wouldn’t be able to tell based on his play on the ice. He looked like one of the most mature players in the CHL this past season.
Harley is so enticing as a prospect. He has the tools, size, and intelligence to make for a sure-fire top-4 defensemen in the NHL, with the potential to be a top-pair. He has time on his side due to age, yet plays so advanced. Add in the fact that he only got better as the year went on and you have the most complete blue-liner in this draft class not named Bowen Byram.
Harley is not a raw prospect but will need time before being ready for the NHL. Playing in the NHL as a teenage defensemen is extremely difficult and I don’t feel Harley has finished developing physically. He could stand to add on some more weight to help his defensive zone play.
Back in the OHL I’d expect him to be one of the better players in the league. He is such a quick learner and it won’t take long before he really figures out the junior hockey landscape.