When Jets prospect Jansen Harkins first arrived in Winnipeg two summers ago, he knew that in order to become an effective player at the pro level one day, he needed to become just that much quicker in order to keep pace and push it with the elite skaters of the modern-day game.
Now, entering the 2017-18 season as a member of the Manitoba Moose, he's more than ready to make the jump after the most productive off-season of his career.
"I had a pretty consistent summer with my trainer and skating coaches," Harkins said. "Nowadays, everyone has so much help. I don't think there's any player in pro hockey that isn't trying to get better and faster and quicker. Everyone at this level is a good skater and the difference is to become a great skater, with quickness and explosiveness off the puck.
"Being an offensive guy, that's something that definitely helps your game in setting up chances and just creating some more offence."
Harkins played his entire junior career with the WHL's Prince George Cougars, where he set a franchise record with 242 career points (75G, 167A) in only 270 regular-season games.
"Every time I'm on the ice, I want to make a play," he said. "Especially in pro, you're going to get less chances, so when you do get them, you've really got to make sure you make something out of it."
Hovering around the 20-goal mark in each of his last three years with the Cougars, Harkins is known more for his playmaking ability than his marksmanship, but is confident he'll develop that side of his game more with time in the freer-flowing American Hockey League.
In fact, it's already happening.
At the September Young Stars Classic in Penticton, B.C., Harkins had three goals in just three games, including a pair in the tournament finale that saw the Jets defeat the Calgary Flames 4-1.
The first was a highlight-reel marker that saw him instinctively sidestep a 6-foot-3, 205-pound defender before driving a quick shot over the goalie's glove hand, while the second was more of a grinding type goal - sticking with a rebound in tight and eventually chopping it home from a sharp angle to snuff out the Flames.
"My game fits the pro style pretty well," he said. "I think the game pretty fast. When everyone is out there doing their job, I relax and know what I'm supposed to be doing.
"That gives me more time to make plays."
Like that night in Penticton.
Harkins, a natural-born centre, was put on the right side for this contest and showed no ill effects from his transition to the wing. Instead, his versatility, finesse and powerful new stride was on display, giving many - including his new head coach - a strong first impression.
"He's a really intelligent player," said Moose Head Coach Pascal Vincent, who led the prospects in Penticton. "He understands the game and what needs to be done. There's a nice progression going on there and at the start of it is his hockey sense, which is excellent."
He must have picked it up somewhere.
Jansen's father, Todd, was a former second-round pick himself and had success as a goal-scorer in more than 10 years with various teams in minor pro leagues across the U.S. before finishing his career in Europe. He appeared 48 NHL games with the Flames and Hartford Whalers as well, scoring three goals, three assists, and recording 78 penalty minutes in the early nineties.
Today, Todd is the general manager of the Cougars and has been for the past three years, getting an up-close look at Jansen's development all the way from Day 1.
"I don't know about breaking the game down, (but) he always told me his opinion," said Harkins. "If I'm not playing very well, he'll tell me and if I am, that's when we get to talk about it in a fun way.
"He's definitely always been there and provided a second opinion and support, which is awesome."
Now, for the first time in a while, those post-game chats will have to be done over the phone.
It's a new chapter in this young man's career, and he's officially off on his own.
-- Ryan Dittrick, WinnipegJets.com