Patrick Harper won't need anyone to show him around the next time he arrives in Nashville.
He's already been to the Predators practice facility on a number of occasions, and he's traversed the event level of Bridgestone Arena for a couple of Future Stars games.
Harper will fit in just fine the next time he slips on a practice jersey with the Preds logo - except now, he'll be doing so as a pro.
Selected by the Predators in the fifth round of the 2016 NHL Draft - and his four-year collegiate career at Boston University now complete - Harper inked a two-year, entry-level contract with Nashville on Friday afternoon, a thrilling step in his quest to one day play in the NHL.
"It feels awesome," Harper said via conference call soon after the deal was announced. "It's a huge honor to be a part of an organization like the Nashville Predators. Just to get a deal done is extremely exciting, and to cap off four years of college in that way is very gratifying. I'm very grateful for the opportunity."
Listed at 5-foot-7 and 150 pounds, Harper's size is less than intimidating. But, what the 21-year-old winger lacks in height, he more than makes up for in skill and speed.
The New Canaan, Connecticut, native's career at Boston University got off to an impressive start, as he posted 13 goals and 37 points as a freshman. Health issues only allowed him to appear in 20 games as a sophomore, and although he was back full-time as a junior, his numbers weren't where he would have liked.
No matter, however, as Harper bounced back in a big way as a senior, tallying 14 goals and 37 more points in just 32 outings before the season was cut short due to the coronavirus outbreak. An alternate captain in his most recent campaign, Harper finished second on the Terriers in scoring - trailing only fellow Preds prospect David Farrance - while proving he was ready to take the next step in his career.
"I wanted to go out on the right note," Harper said of returning for his senior season. "I had areas that I could improve on going back for my senior year, whether that's putting points up, being an offensive leader, but other things like playing away from the puck, having a good stick and playing hard in the hard areas, things like that [were also important]. There's definitely some satisfaction going out the right way, doing things the right way and sticking to the process. I think going back to my senior year was absolutely the right decision, and it really helped me round out my game and add some more offensive ability to my game as well."
Part of that improvement came from attending a number of development camps with the Predators over the past few summers. An annual weeklong event in late June, Preds Development Camp is geared toward showing the organization's top prospects what it's like to be a professional hockey player in Nashville.
Harper says those experiences spent working on and off the ice with Predators development coaches and staff played an imperative role in helping him become the player he is today.
"The Predators take a lot of pride in their development camps, and they do a really good job with all the players that come to camp," Harper said. "With that being said, there's a lot of little teaching points that they do, whether it's through relationships created in the previous years, helping out players, or being on the ice, teaching you little things about wall play or offensive-zone stick positioning, things like that. Just by going to those camps, [you get] a lot of experience and a lot of knowledge. I really tried to integrate a lot of the things they've talked to me about, and it seemed to pay off."
Friday's signing backs up that statement, but Harper also deserves plenty of the credit. It's never easy to make it to this level, no matter what physical attributes a player possesses. Harper hasn't let that hinder his progress, and he's got plenty of reason to be encouraged after starring at the NCAA level.
Time will tell if he'll do the same here in Tennessee, but there's a reason the Predators thought enough of him four years ago to bring him into the organization. Now, that decision is something else that's starting to pay off.
"For the last little bit here during my college career I studied a lot of the smaller players in the National Hockey League, and I tried to pick up on little things that they do that makes them successful," Harper said. "The way that the NHL is trending there's definitely a lot of room for smaller guys who play with a head on their shoulders and use their IQ to their advantage. That's something that I pride myself on, and I try to stick a couple steps ahead of the rest of the players. That's always been my mindset, and with the way the League's trending, I feel like I'm in a pretty good spot."