Thomas Harley Game 3 TONIGHT bug

DALLAS – Thomas Harley doesn’t get rattled. It’s a personality trait the Dallas Stars defenseman said he’s always had and has gotten ribbed for in the past.

“When I was in junior (hockey) when I was 16, I got chirped for having no pulse out there on the ice,” he said with a smile. “It’s just kind of comes naturally.”

That calm has served Harley well at various times, from returning to the American Hockey League last season to develop his game to playing on the Stars’ top defense pair with Miro Heiskanen to handling the pressure of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Harley has two assists and is averaging 24:24 of ice time in 15 postseason games for the Stars, who face the Edmonton Oilers in Game 3 of the Western Conference Final at Rogers Place on Monday (8:30 p.m. ET; CBC, TVAS, SN, TNT, truTV, MAX).

The best-of-7 series is tied 1-1.

The 22-year-old had 47 points (15 goals, 32 assists) in 79 games for the Stars. His average ice time of 21:01 was second on the Stars behind Heiskanen at 24:32.

“Both similar skill sets, right? Both big, rangy guys that skate really well, think the game, have good offensive instincts,” Stars coach Pete DeBoer said of Harley and Heiskanen’s successful chemistry. “But I think what allows it to work is Thomas Harley’s really mindset.

“When you talk to Thomas, he’s never overwhelmed. He’s really kind of got that unflappable kind of personality and I think a lot of guys put in that situation, and happens with a lot of young players, are kind of overwhelmed by the moment, the situation and who they’re out against.”

The No. 18 pick by Dallas in the 2019 NHL Draft, Harley played 34 games for the Stars under former coach Rick Bowness in 2021-22. Last season, the Stars’ first with DeBoer, Harley played in only six games, all coming in April of 2023.

“When I got the job, he came to training camp (in September 2022) and didn’t look close to being ready to play in the NHL defensively,” DeBoer said. “He went down (to Texas, the Stars’ AHL affiliate) and all he did was concentrate on his defensive game. Now for me, he’s one of the best two-way defensemen in the world, plays against all people’s top players, also contributes to offense, killing penalties, outstanding.”

Harley admits being reassigned last season wasn’t the easiest news to take.

“I mean, everyone wants to play in the NHL, right? So, I was definitely disappointed,” he said. “But at the same time, I knew that I wasn’t at the level I needed to be to have success in the NHL. So, you go down and you swallow your pride and put your work boots on.”

Texas coach Neil Graham said the biggest area of work for Harley, “was just a consistency in his defending.”

“(It was) his stick positioning, footwork, the mindset and mentality on the defensive side, and he knew that,” Graham said. “That was half the battle. He knew he was coming down to work on that area. He was extremely coachable, he was receptive to coaching, he got better, whether it was practice or games.

“That’s something you don’t always see on the game sheet was the work he put in on the practice side. Overall, his habits improved and when they become a part of your routine, it’s no longer something you’re thinking about. It’s just what you do. That’s what we noticed from Thomas. It went from, ‘OK, I’m focusing on getting better defensively’ to ‘It’s just now part of me,’ and it’s now part of the foundation. I think we’re seeing that, and now he’s playing free.”

Harley had 34 points (10 goals, 24 assists) and was a plus-19 in 66 games with Texas last season. He was also named to the AHL All-Star Game. After playing Dallas’ final six regular-season games last April, he had nine points (one goal, eight assists) in 19 playoff games before the Stars were eliminated by the Vegas Golden Knights in the 2023 Western Conference Final.

Stars forward Joe Pavelski said the difference in Harley’s game was noticeable.

“Instantly everyone’s like, ‘Kind of got something there,’” he said. “You see the confidence, the work he put in and how he can skate, and he was good with the puck. He did a tremendous job, so it’s a credit to him and what he was able to do.”

Harley has handled everything well at a young age for the Stars, including playing on the biggest stage. For those around him, his way of handling all the pressure is no surprise.

“That’s the definition of Thomas Harley: he’s a cool customer,” Graham said. “Even from his early years, he had a steadiness about demeanor, and I think regardless of a good play, a poor play, you saw him stay even keel and very neutral. That mindset and personality trait, which he’s had from a young age, it’s why we see the consistency in his game.”