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Harkins draws inspiration, drive from father, brother

by Aaron Vickers

Forward Jansen Harkins of the Prince George Cougars of the Western Hockey League has developed into a top prospect for the 2015 NHL Draft, but he isn't above asking his father for advice during rides to the rink, just like he did as a kid.

It's a perk that comes when your father, former NHL player Todd Harkins, doubles not only as his ride to and from the rink most days, but also as his team's general manager.

"He knows what it takes and how hard you have to work," said Jansen, who earned an A rating on NHL Central Scouting’s November players to watch list. "He's really instilled that [work ethic] in me my whole life. He's always been around coaching me and teaching me. He's been a lot of help to me. And now I have him up in Prince George living with me.

"It's nice to have someone I can talk to and relate to what I'm going through. It's awesome."

While a number of draft eligible players in recent seasons have been the sons of former NHL players, few have gotten to call their dad "boss."

A second-round pick (No. 42) of the Calgary Flames in the 1988 NHL Draft, Todd played parts of three seasons in the NHL, 48 games with the Flames and Hartford Whalers. He had been hired by Prince George as a regional scout in 2012, but in May was named interim GM; the interim tag was removed in July.

But despite Todd's increased role with the Cougars, conversations between father and son have been more parent/child than GM/player.

"It's always dad talking to son," said Todd, who played professionally for 11 seasons, including stints in the International Hockey League, American Hockey League, Germany and Switzerland. "I evaluate him as his dad and he's my kid. It's hard not to evaluate him like that. I'm always trying to teach him the finer points of the game and things that might make him have success, which ultimately makes our team have success. That's kind of how I approach it with him.

"The coaching that goes on, I’ll leave that to [Cougars coach] Mark Holick. The teaching inside usually happens away from the rink with me."

The lessons on the ice, Jansen admits, range from "Just knowing that you can go out there and make plays and make things happen," to "becoming a man and trying to get stronger and play at the NHL level as soon as I can."

They're starting to take, as evidence of Jansen's 12 goals and 39 points in 34 games for the Cougars this season.

However, the teaching from Jansen's family goes well beyond hockey.

Jansen's older brother Nicklas, the Cougars' locker room attendant, has been dealing with mucopolysaccharide disease (MPS), which first appeared when Nicklas was 5. The rare genetic disorder is caused by the lack of an enzyme critical for development of the joints.

Todd said watching Niklas battle the disorder has given him plenty of perspective.

"I think there's a lot of different things that come into play in Jansen's career and his hockey because of his older brother being diagnosed with a pretty fatal disease," Todd said. "I think that drives Jansen to succeed so his brother can experience it with him.

"Nicklas, when he was younger before he was diagnosed, was a very talented hockey player as well. I think that probably drives Jansen and this family to be as one and to support each other along the way.

"We've had a lot of trials and tribulations through our last 14 years. That's one thing we've tried to do as a family and support each other and make sure we care for each other and just enjoy our life together because we don't know when it will change."

Jansen said Nicklas has been a big inspiration for him, and also helps him understand what's really important in life.

"It definitely gives you a different appreciation what he goes through on a daily basis, what he's had to overcome in his short life so far," Jansen said. "It's a big motivational factor for me and for everybody on our team. It really helps out and shows how good our lives are and how good our bodies work and how fortunate we are every day to go out and play hockey.

"He loves hockey so much, probably more than all of us [on the team] combined, and to be able to go out there and play every day is something I'm very grateful for."

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