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Breakout season helped No. 11-ranked Thomas Harley rocket up the charts

by RYAN DITTRICK @ryandittrick /

A player's draft year is often a story of rapid ascension.

Some, more than others, just happen make noise along the way.

But when you break out like this - and this fast - turning the tools into real-life acclaim, the proverbial glass ceiling doesn't stand a chance.

Thomas Harley is evidence of that.

"I didn't do anything out of the ordinary," the 6-foot-3, 188 lb. defenceman reported at the NHL Scouting Combine back on June 1. "I just knew, after the season I had the year before, what I was capable of.

"So, I worked for it."

Harley, the No. 11-ranked North-American skater, had one of the most productive under-18 seasons in OHL history last year, scoring 11 goals and 58 points in 68 games on the blueline.

Only 20 other defencemen in the history of the league have done more, including current NHL rearguards Ryan Ellis, Drew Doughty, Michael Del Zotto and Dougie Hamilton, as well as Boston Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy, who holds the all-time record with a number that may never be broken - 111 (25G, 86A) points in 70 games back in 1982-83.

Clearly, Harley - like the all-star cast before him - is best known for his offence.


Video: Mississauga defenceman Thomas Harley at Combine


His production quadrupled over the previous year, finishing third in team scoring behind 20-year-old forwards Alan Lyszczarczyk and Cole Carter, was named the team's MVP as a result, and earned the Best Offensive Defenceman and Most Improved Player honours in the annual OHL Eastern Conference Coaches' Poll.

He was first on Mississauga with 31 powerplay points (5G, 26A), and had four points (1G, 3A) in seven games in a fourth-place finish for Canada at the World Under-18 Championship in April.

He's an elite skater, an excellent puck-mover and is one of the most talented players in the draft at transitioning the puck from defence to offence.

But he also knows there's a long way to go, despite the bulging comparisons to Ottawa's Thomas Chabot.

"My defensive consistency, for one," Harley said, rather bluntly, when asked what needed to improve to take the next step. "I think it was all over the place last year.

"But it's also what I've improved the most on, too.

"If you look at where I was at the start of the year, versus where I was at the end of the year, I think you see a big improvement. Just every facet of the game - gapping up in the neutral zone, D zone coverage, trying not to puck-watch with the three guys down low.

"I have some lapses defensively, but I've been working on that.

"And, I was shutting down the other teams' top lines most nights."



The Steelheads didn't have much in the way of depth, and with Nic Hague and Vili Saarijarvi graduating to the pro ranks, Harley showed he could handle the minutes of a No. 1 D man.

He averaged about 30 minutes per game, including deployments in all situations.

A tall order for someone his age, but equally representative of the impact player he believes he can be one day.

"Watching the playoffs, (Alex) Pietrangelo," Harley said, describing his big-league doppelganger. "He's the type of player I'm striving to be.

"He's got that same offensive style I have, but he's more defensively sound than I am, so I need to work on that."

And work, he will.

Because, when Harley sets a goal for himself, he does everything possible to achieve it.

Just like Pietrangelo and the Stanley Cup-winning Blues.

"I got a good one," Harley said of the interview portion of the Combine. "'Would you rather be better than everyone or be the best?'

"I thought that was a really good question, because it's either your personal best, or winning.

"And I want to win."

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