When you play 25+ minutes on a top 20 NCAA team as a sophomore, chances are you will one day also be patrolling an NHL blueline. For Northeastern head coach Jim Madigan, it’s not a question of if, but when, Jordan Harris cracks the NHL.
“This is a kid that for me that can come out of college and play right away like (fellow Northeastern alumni) Josh Manson and Matt Benning,” said Madigan. “He’s got the ability to do that.”
First things first. Harris is preparing diligently for his junior season as Hockey East finally launches its hockey season on Nov. 20, and if he thought he played a lot last year in logging 25-27 minutes per game, wait and see what coach has in store for his go-to defender this campaign.
“He’ll be 27 to 30 (minutes per game) this year,” said Madigan. “He plays in all situations, and he’s in tremendous shape. If you’ve seen the body…he’s got definition but he’s got great conditioning. He’s 5-11, which may have been undersized in the old NHL but not today. Because he’s in such tremendous shape and he can skate…for me he’s going to play (in the NHL).”
Harris has no issue with being called upon to play half the game on some nights.
“Yeah; I mean…yeah, of course!” said Harris excitedly when informed of what Madigan has planned for his newly-named assistant captain. “Because I would never complain about more ice time. I’m definitely fortunate to be trusted by the coaches, and whatever they need.”
The graduation of captain Ryan Shea has bumped Harris up into the top role on Northeastern’s blueline, and with it also comes a requirement to provide more leadership, even if it’s, for the most part, leadership by example.
“He’s very quiet,” said Madigan. “He doesn’t have diarrhea of the mouth. He speaks when it’s appropriate. In practice he does all the right things. After practice he’s working more on his game, he is in the weight room all the time; he’s very well respected by his teammates, so they listen to him. He speaks when he needs to speak.”
Harris echoed his coach’s comments when asked to reflect on his new role as one of three Northeastern players who will wear a letter this season.
“I find it a tremendous honour to be a captain,” said the well spoken and polite 20-year-old. “One of my main things is I lead through example. I’m not one to always need to be a loud talker in the room and be one to always say something. If I see something, then I’m definitely close enough to everyone and have the confidence to speak on that. Just try to be someone who everyone can come and talk to, and be a leader on the team.”
Madigan has leaned on Harris since his first training camp back in the fall of 2018, and the Haverhill, Mass. native has answered every challenge.
“He’s very thorough, reliable, trustworthy,” said Madigan. “And I say this in a good way…he’s efficient and effective. He’s a high-end skater, just tremendous skating ability, and he makes the right plays all of the time. I’m not saying he’s Nicklas Lidstrom, but he was a guy that wasn’t flashy, but high-end skill, high-end intelligence, and could move pucks. Lidstrom didn’t go end-to-end…and that’s Jordan Harris. He will support the rush, but just makes the right plays. He will contribute offensively and you know, but just efficient, effective and a competitor.”
As is the case with every player on a sports team, with seniority comes greater responsibility on and off the ice, and Harris’ main goal is to provide that this season.
“I see myself in more of a leadership role, and a guy you can rely on more as a junior, and one of the top D coming back,” said Harris. “Definitely high expectations for myself. No specific numbers, but just to continue improving on my offensive game, and being more of a threat offensively, making plays quickly. Just try to be someone reliable and someone the coaches can trust. Try to be a more consistent offensive threat.”
If there’s one part of his game that has not quite lived up to expectations so far in his highly successful college career that included a trip to the World Juniors last season, it would be his inability to find the back of the net on more occasions. Harris has scored four goals through his first two seasons. He plans on improving on that in 2020-21.
“I’ve been working on my shot a lot, and more confident than I’ve ever been,” said Harris. “Honestly I worked all summer on it, and just trying to take the right shot and be more accurate, so hopefully…you always try to hit the back of the net.
“I have a net in my backyard so I shoot hundreds of pucks a day. Try to shoot every single day, stickhandle, stuff like that.”
Hockey net in the backyard? Aren’t they usually in the driveway of the family homestead?
“We had to get a new garage door a few years back,” admitted Harris. “I honestly put a hole right through it. I moved the net to the back yard and I’ve dinged up the back of the garage now.”
A lot of those shots through the years were directed at his older brother Elijah, a goaltender with Endicott College for the past two seasons.
“We were playing all the time in the driveway,” said Harris. “He’d throw his glove in the net and I’d shoot at that.”
Elijah isn’t as keen on showing up his little brother as he used to be; likely because the tables have turned in that regard.
“That’s part of getting older…and it being the other way around,” said Harris with a laugh. “I never used to be able to score…my God he made me so mad. Now I’m getting my payback.”
Their father Peter was a goalie at UMass-Lowell who was drafted 164th overall by the New York Islanders in the 1986 NHL draft. Both of his sons wanted to follow in dad’s footsteps.
“I started as a goalie and a forward actually,” said Harris. “I really wanted to be a goalie. I told my parents (Peter and Virginia) this is really what I want to do was play in nets and my dad was like: ‘This is not happening having two goalies in the family’; so I played forward for a while and then when I was eight or nine I switched it around but I probably played every position until Grade 5 or 6.”
Peter wasn’t one of those fathers who discouraged his sons from following in his footsteps
“I was probably two or three when I was first on skates,” said Harris. “We got into it really young. Like a typical hockey family – having my dad play – It was fun; it was a big family thing.
“He was on the bench coaching up until I went to high school, and still comes to all my games. Him and my brother influenced me to play hockey.”
The Harrises don’t have to travel far to see their youngest son play college hockey.
“We’ve lived in the same house my whole life and it’s probably only 45 minutes from Northeastern. It’s really nice that it’s close.”
The trek to see Jordan play pro hockey will be longer for mom and dad if he indeed ends up playing for the Canadiens. The drafting of several other highly-touted left defencemen has made that less of a certainty than it seemed 16 months ago.
Alex Romanov is ready to step into a role on Montreal’s defence that is expected to evolve into a top-four role sooner rather than later, Kaiden Guhle was selected 16th overall in the 2020 draft, and Harris’ teammate Jayden Struble was a second-round pick by Montreal in last year’s draft. Throw in the impressive development of fellow third-round pick Mattias Norlinder, and Harris faces a daunting task finding a spot on Montreal’s left side in the future.
Madigan thinks that Struble and Harris will both play in the NHL; he’s just not sure it will be with the Canadiens
“They might not both play in Montreal because as you say they have so many good defence prospects,” noted Madigan, who is also welcoming Struble back to play his sophomore season at Northeastern. “It’s not great for the players, but it’s good for the Canadiens to have the assets.
“I scouted for 18 years in the NHL, and you’ve scouted a long time too, and for each organization, you know the philosophy, right? Acquire as many assets as you can, and leave it up to the manager to move those assets around to improve the hockey club.”
Harris has noticed that the Canadiens drafted four more left defencemen in the top three rounds of the last two drafts.
It’s definitely deep on the left side,” said Harris. “A lot of good players. Definitely a lot of good prospects.”
Has Harris considered playing all four years at Northeastern and not signing in Montreal because of the excessive depth on left defence in the prospect pool?
“Honestly, I haven’t really thought about that,” said Harris. “I’m just really focused on the college year. I haven’t really thought too much about the future. It always kind of crosses your mind that there are a lot of good prospects, but I always think that things will work themselves out.”
Harris’ ability to play defence on either side will help him in his quest to win a spot on Montreal’s blueline some day. His coach certainly thinks he can make that transition to right defence at the pro level if asked to do so.
“Yeah, because he can skate,” said Madigan. “He’ll offer the club flexibility and versatility because of his ability to play both sides. Struble is a great skater but Jordan is (on a scale of one to five) a five NHL skater. Jayden is a very good skater but Jo…his edges are that much (better)…he’s an elite skater.”
Harris would have no issue being asked to play right defence for the Canadiens.
“My whole freshman year I played on the right, and the world juniors I played on the right, so I’m pretty comfortable with it at this point,” said Harris. “I never really played right before college, and it’s definitely a little different on the blueline but after playing on the right my whole freshman year, it’s not really a difference at all.”
Madigan is comfortable playing Harris on either side. In fact; his very first shift at the collegiate level was playing on the right side on the top pairing with Jeremy Davies, and Harris remained there his entire freshman season.
“We move him around,” said Madigan. “He’s got the ability to play the right side. He prefers the left side; everyone prefers their natural side. He’s effective on the right side, so it’s not like you lose anything with him on the right. To pick up and retrieve pucks you’d rather be on your natural side, but he can do it and he can skate.”
The million dollar question is…when will Harris and Struble turn pro?
“Struble and Harris are so young,” noted Madigan. “They could play their four years of college and go the free agent route or sign with Montreal and still only be 22 years of age, the same age as a lot of European prospects when they come over to play pro.”
Madigan figures that returning to college to play at least one more season before turning pro was the right decision for Harris.
“It’s too much of a crapshoot,” said Madigan. “Too much uncertainty for most players to leave after their sophomore year and be a pro. People don’t realize how hard the AHL is. It’s real good hockey and smart hockey. It’s challenging to leave a college going right to the American league. I think if you are going to leave early you are better off leaving after your third year. You’re more mentally mature to handle that transition to the pro game.”
Harris certainly considered turning pro last spring but ultimately decided to return to Northeastern for at least one more season.
“Yeah, we talked about it,” said Harris. “My family and advisor…and we talked to Montreal a bit. It was always like, ‘If you really want to make the jump we can talk about it and try to figure something out’, but we all kind of agreed that it would be beneficial to come back and get more experience in college. And I kind of agree on that; I’d still like to work on different stuff, especially in a system I’m comfortable with, and at a level I now believe I can do more dominance-wise. So that was the decision by everyone.”
Both Harris and Madigan stress that it’s always wise for drafted collegiates to take it one season at a time when considering turning pro.
“After this season, there will be decisions that will have to be made by both the Montreal Canadiens and Jordan Harris and his camp whether he signs,” said Madigan. “Whether he comes back and plays his fourth year, and then signs with the Canadiens or goes the free agent route, which is what a lot of collegiates do.
“If the Canadiens like the development that we’re providing with the prospects..let them play…and after the third year, if they think that they’re ready for the AHL, then that’s the decision that they’ll make along with the family, the players and the advisors. Let’s have him enjoy this year, see how this year plays out for himself, and then he makes his decision.”
Madigan admits it difficult to find fault in Harris’ game when asked to describe what he needs to improve on.
“Just becoming that much more efficient and reliable, which I’ve already said are two of his biggest traits,” said Madigan. “He’s already doing everything at a high level, but to be that total shutdown guy, be the guy that’s making the right plays all the time.”
Having watched many of Harris’ games through his first two seasons at Northeastern, it is rare to see him make costly mistakes.
“I said to him at the end of the year…and it seems almost impossible to me…but I don’t think he’s ever been scored upon…because ‘You’re that good; you’re that shutdown’. He’ll jump into the play at the appropriate times, and he’ll be that reliable, thorough, all-around player.”
Tyler Madden, Ryan Shea and Matt Filipe all turned pro in the offseason and they will be missed, but Northeastern has an impressive group of freshmen coming in, including recent 2020 NHL draft picks Gunnarwolfe Fontaine, Sam Colangelo and Devon Levi.
“Obviously, losing those guys; they were huge for us last year, and we were all pretty close, so it’s sad to see them go,” said Harris. “But I’ve been really, really impressed by our freshman class so far, we have a lot of playmakers and fast skaters. I definitely think we’ll be a fast team this year, and I think all the younger guys are going to contribute immediately, so I’m really excited and have high expectations. I think we’re really deep, and very talented. I think this is the most talented team I’ve been a part of here.”
The defenceman who rarely makes mistakes has really only made one glaring one in his 20 years on this planet.
“Yeah; I definitely grew up a Bruins fan,” said Harris. “We had them on all the time. Yeah I know…I’ve heard so many jokes about it (being a Habs’ draft pick). I loved the Bruins growing up, and I still watch them when I go home..my dad is a huge fan. But now I’m more of an NHL fan and a Montreal fan, and I think I’ve swayed my mom a little bit.
My parting words for Harris were ones Canadiens’ fans would echo if given the opportunity to talk to the promising defenceman….’Don’t pass up signing with the Habs to sign with the Bruins.’
“Ha ha,” laughed Harris…who eventually said, “I definitely agree with that.”
That’s great to know.
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