That’s because a lot has happened in the past year for the Penguins prospect since he was selected in the second round (54th overall) of the 2011 NHL Draft.
Harrington produced a hugely successful season that included representing Team Canada at the 2012 World Junior Championships and making a run to the Memorial Cup with his junior team, the London Knights (Ontario Hockey League).
That was after he spent the summer learning what it meant to be part of the Penguins organization, participating in development camp, a prospect tournament and training camp.
But despite the grind of a long summer followed by a long season, Harrington said he’s actually feeling rested and rejuvenated for what’s to come in 2012-13.
“I would have thought that I would be pretty tired right now and not looking as far ahead as next season,” he said. “But for whatever reason, I feel kind of recharged already.”
The 19-year-old defenseman was kind enough to look back and relive everything that’s happened this past year, and tell us just how his accomplishments have helped him develop into one of Pittsburgh’s top prospects.
We’ll start with last year’s draft.
THE 2011 NHL DRAFT
When a player is selected by an NHL club during the league’s annual draft, it’s such an incredible moment for him and his family. It validates the years of early morning practices and weekend tournaments growing up playing youth hockey, the countless hours training on and off the ice while balancing school and sometimes part-time jobs, the sacrifices they’ve made and all the emotional highs and lows of playing a sport.
It’s what he’s been working for and dreaming of since he was a little boy. So it’s a lot to process when everything becomes reality.
“It’s quite overwhelming at that time, it’s kind of like I was dreaming,” Harrington reflected. “I didn’t really know what was going on. It was a bit of a blur. I was just so excited and so thankful that I was able to be picked not only in the draft, but by Pittsburgh.”
But now, looking back, Harrington not only remembers the euphoria of being chosen by Pittsburgh, but the anxiety of waiting to hear his name called.
He’d met with numerous teams before the draft and had lunched with Randy Sexton, Penguins assistant director of amateur scouting, about a week before in his hometown of Kingston, Ontario.
“He’s a really nice guy and I enjoyed the meeting that I had with him,” Harrington said of Sexton. “I felt good leaving it that I had made a good impression with him.”
But despite that, he still didn’t have a clue as to who might take him and where.
“There were some other teams that I had meetings with. In the second round after they had used up all their picks and hadn’t picked me I was a little nervous,” Harrington said with a laugh. “I knew the last team I had talked to was Pittsburgh. (When they picked me) it took a while for it to sink in that I had been drafted by the Pittsburgh Penguins. It was a huge thrill.”
Watch Steve Mears interview Harrington after being chosen by the Penguins at the 2011 draft:
Less than a month after the draft, Harrington traveled to Pittsburgh for his first-ever development camp.
For him, the weeklong camp served as a crash course in what it means to be a professional hockey player for the Penguins organization in a relaxed atmosphere. The prospects took part in on-ice practice and scrimmage sessions at CONSOL Energy Center as well as workouts, meetings and seminars and a few unique bonding activities like a cooking class and a bowling tournament.
He couldn’t be more grateful for the experience.
“It was so helpful. Especially since I had really no idea what to expect,” Harrington said. “They showed us around the city and showed us around the arena. They started to teach us the different styles of play that the Penguins use. We got familiar with the American Hockey League coaches and some of the NHL coaches at that camp.
“It really allowed me to go into the rookie tournament and main camp with a lot more confidence than I would have if it was my first time going down to Pittsburgh.”
Harrington impressed the Penguins personnel during his time in Pittsburgh, and later that month, the organization signed Harrington to a three-year entry-level contract that will begin when he makes the transition to pro hockey.
“We are pleased to get him signed at this point and have him as a part of the Penguins organization, and part of our future,” assistant to the general manager Tom Fitzgerald said.
Just over a week after finalizing the deal, Harrington was one of 46 players who attended Hockey Canada’s National Junior Team Summer Development Camp in Edmonton and Fort McMurray, Alberta. He then had a few weeks of well-deserved rest before heading to Oshawa, Ontario, to represent the Penguins at a rookie tournament that included also included Ottawa, Toronto and Chicago.
After being schooled in the habits and mindset of a Pittsburgh Penguin throughout the summer months, Harrington graduated to training camp that September. He performed admirably among the NHL veterans, earning a long look and toting a newfound aplomb back to London with him that fall.
“Each day I learned so much from the coaches and just watching the other defensemen on the Penguins and what they do on and off the ice,” he said. “It’s such a good learning experience for any young guys who can hang around that atmosphere for as long as they can. And it definitely allowed me to bring a lot more confidence back to my game in London. I think that the extra weeks I spent in Pittsburgh and in main camp definitely helped me throughout the entire season.”
WORLD JUNIOR CHAMPIONSHIP
Ontario Hockey League play began in late September, but Harrington had to take a break from the action that winter to pursue another lifelong dream of his – representing his country at the World Junior Championship.
After participating in Hockey Canada’s summer development camp, Harrington got invited to their National Junior Team Sport Check Selection Camp from Dec. 10-14, which determined the roster for the tournament.
After learning that he was one of seven defensemen to crack Canada’s final roster, Harrington and his roommate at the camp – who also made the team – ran around celebrating after getting the news early in the morning.
“That one also, it probably took a week, week and a half for it to really sink in just because I had grown up every year watching that tournament,” Harrington said. “And to make it as an underager, I was so fortunate. It’s just an unbelievable experience that whole tournament.”
Harrington certainly made it a memorable one with his record-tying performance early in the tournament.
The more defensive-minded blueliner scored a goal and added three assists for Canada as they steamrolled Denmark, 10-2, in opening-round action. His four points tied a team record for most points by a defenseman in a World Junior Championship contest.
“That was something going in I wanted to make sure I at least got one goal in the tournament that I could kind of reflect upon when I was older,” he said. “It was pretty special and a night I won’t forget.”
Canada nearly completed an impossible comeback against Russia in the semifinals, but eventually fell in overtime, 6-5. However, Canada shut out Finland in the Bronze Medal Game to finish in third place.
WHAT A RUN
Unfortunately, Harrington sustained an injury during the World Junior Championship that forced him to sit out about a month. But instead of adopting a ‘why me?’ attitude, the young defenseman found the silver lining in that adversity.
“I was able to recharge my batteries before our playoff run,” he said. “It was tough that I got the injury, but I guess I made the most of it by resting and getting ready for the long playoff run that we had.”
Although his teammates were dealing with fatigue from the international tournaments that took place around Christmas, the Knights regrouped and really hit their stride down the stretch.
“I think after Christmas break we really decided as a team that we had a strong start and a chance to win the OHL and to make the Memorial Cup,” he said.
And they did just that.
The Knights captured the league championship and subsequently earned their first Memorial Cup berth since 2005.
London had a heck of a run, steamrolling their way to the Championship Final to face host team Shawinigan on May 27.
Harrington experienced another bitterly disappointing overtime loss when the Knights fell 2-1 to the Cataractes in extra time. But again, the young defenseman is handling the setback with maturity.
“We’re definitely proud of the season we had and what we accomplished,” he said. “I think all the guys are still a little upset that we didn’t win. It would have been nice. To come so close leaves a bitter feeling, but we’re very proud of what
we accomplished. We played well as a team and won the OHL this year.
“We’re definitely not hanging our heads, that’s for sure.”
The 2011-12 campaign marked Harrington’s third full season with the Knights. His experiences with Pittsburgh, his accomplishments on the international level and playing with the same defensive partner (Jarred Tinordi) for a second full season meant Harrington had never been more comfortable as a team leader.
He used all of that in stepping up and fulfilling a larger role both on the ice and as a mentor to his younger, first-year teammates.
“I really enjoyed the role that I played with my team,” he said. “Trying to help out the younger guys and lead them any way I could. It feels good knowing that we made it that far.
Today, Harrington was named to the 28-player roster that will represent Canada at the Canada-Russia Challenge in August. The event will replace Canada's National Junior Team summer development camp.
Harrington is eligible to rejoin the Knights next season. But right now, he’s only focused on what’s going to be another busy summer.
Because if he trains and performs like he did last year, he feels he’ll put himself in the best position to succeed.
“I’m just going to keep doing what I’m doing,” he said. “I thought I had a good summer last year preparing myself and preparing my body for the hockey season. I look forward to building on that this summer. I look forward to go back to Pittsburgh for development camp in a couple weeks and getting everything going again.”