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Harkins develops into one of WHL's best

by Ryan Dittrick (@ryandittrick) / Winnipeg Jets

This piece originally appeared on on May 29. Harkins has since been drafted by the Jets 47th overall.

Confidence is key; doubly so for the elite, and when he feels he has something to prove.

Jansen Harkins, the top-line centre of the WHL's Prince George Cougars, knows a thing or two about that.

“You have to believe in yourself and trust that when the puck drops, you’re going to go out there and perform to the best of your abilities,” he said.

“I wanted to show that I was one of the better players in the league this season.”

He did just that. The now 18-year-old more than doubled his production from the previous year, when ice-time and opportunity went hand-in-hand as a rookie in 2013.

“I’ve always been that [offensive]-type and in my first year, it was pretty tough,” Harkins said. “You’re playing against older and stronger guys and at 16, the physical side of it is most
difficult to adapt to. It wasn’t the easiest year.”

It was still a success by just about any measure, tallying 10 goals and 34 points in 67 regular-season games, in addition to donning the maple leaf at the World U-17 Hockey Challenge and later at the U-18 Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament.

But he was still far from satisfied.

“I tried to break the mold. I wanted to show them – everyone – how effective I could be.”

Centering PG’s top line, Harkins enjoyed a breakout year, scoring 20 goals and setting a single-season franchise-record with 59 assists en route to winning the Dan Hamhuis Award as the club’s Most Valuable Player. He describes himself as a versatile, two-way forward similar to Jonathan Toews and Anze Kopitar; a player that can make a difference in all three zones, make the ‘high-percentage’ play or singlehandedly take over when needed. His production was a big reason why the Cougars – under new ownership this season – returned to the playoffs after four years of disappointment (“It was a big step for our organization”). By year’s end, the now-established offensive catalyst had evolved into one of the NHL’s top prospects, and could be a first-round selection at the
upcoming June Draft in Sunrise, Florida.

“You want to go as high as you can, but in the end it isn’t my dream to go in the first or second round – it’s to play in the NHL, period,” Harkins said. “It’s obviously a hard thing to do at my age but I think that’s the mindset everyone should have, is to try and crack that roster.

“It wouldn’t be the end of the world if I didn’t make it (this year). The most important thing is that I’m developing into the best player I can be.”

And that’s precisely his approach. As a busy off-season descends on the North Vancouver native, it’s time to reflect, refresh and refocus.

“One of the strongest parts of my game is that I can think it pretty well,” Harkins said. “It’s not that I’m taking chances or increasing the risk factor – you have to smart about it – but I like to be more aggressive in the offensive zone. With that, I want to develop my shot a little more. I know I have a good shot already, but it’s about using it more, especially when the opportunity presents itself. I’ve always prided myself on my vision and my playmaking ability, but if I can improve my shot even
a little bit, I’ll better round out my skill set.

“Those are my short-term goals. I want to continue to develop in all areas, but those are the things I’m giving immediate attention to.”

I wanted to show that I was one of the better players in the leagueJansen Harkins

Harkins is only now back home after whirlwind spring that included the WHL playoffs and a stint at the World U-18 Championship in Zug, Switzerland. He had three goals and five points in seven games to help Canada win bronze – a satisfactory end after being cut from the same squad the previous year.

“I had a little sniff of it but to finally be on the team and see those Canadian colours with your name on the back, it was pretty special,” he said.

Harkins would love to see it again by earning a spot on the Canadian National Junior Team for the upcoming holiday season.

“It never gets old. Anytime you can play for Canada, it’s amazing,” he said. “I remember growing up and watching Canada, especially at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver. The atmosphere around the city and how much people believed and supported them was pretty crazy. To feel that first-hand…”

Kind of like being drafted to the NHL?

“I can only imagine.”

But not for long.

-- Ryan Dittrick,

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