The teacher wastes no time identifying the star pupil.
“Jansen Harkins is the story of 2019-20,” Manitoba Moose head coach Pascal Vincent said Monday.
When Harkins began his third professional season in the AHL, Vincent said an NHL call-up was a long shot at best with several other prospects ahead of him on the depth chart.
But a tremendous summer of training led to 31 points in his first 30 games with the Moose and had Harkins near the top of the league’s scoring race. That earned the 22-year-old a promotion to the Winnipeg Jets, where he continued opening eyes with seven points in his first 29 NHL games.
“I have players who come into my office and ask ‘When I am gonna get called up? Is it my time? Why is this guy getting called up?’ They’re all legitimate questions, they’re all fair. Players have the right to ask those questions. They all want to play for the Jets and want to know where they stand. But Jansen Harkins never did. Not one time,” Vincent said.
Instead, Harkins quietly went about his work, which included a brief demotion to the ECHL during the 2017-18 season.
“Jansen Harkins did it right. He did everything right,” said Vincent. “For him to come back this year, getting a little bit faster, a little bit stronger, a little bit quicker. He spent a lot of time studying the systems, watching video, asking questions. A very low-maintenance guy but he was very demanding of himself.”
And just like that, his moment finally arrived. Vincent said it’s a tremendous lesson for all players, that development isn’t always a straight line, and that hard work and patience can pay off.
“Of course we’re going to use this story for a long time. If you push yourself and keep believing in yourself, good things will happen,” said Vincent.
There were several other success stories this year as well.
Goaltender Mikhail Berdin made huge strides in his second year of pro hockey, which included a big run of games early in the season after veteran goalie Eric Comrie was claimed on waivers by the Arizona Coyotes. The 22-year-old Berdin appears to have a bright future.
Same goes for defenceman Leon Gawanke, a 20-year-old fifth-round pick by the Jets in 2017 who had 26 points in 48 games in his rookie season for the Moose after finishing up his junior career.
“At the end of the year he was running the top power play for us. We knew about his hockey sense, but we didn’t know how well he could apply his reads at this level,” said Vincent.
The undrafted Kristian Reichel, playing on an AHL deal, had 12 goals in 39 games and may have played his way into a two-way NHL deal by next season.
“As a coach, he’s the type of guy you really loved. He’s bringing his best every day. His maturity, his decision-making, his compete level is off the chart,” said Vincent.
Reichel’s development underlines another important lesson for young players: it doesn’t matter what round you got drafted in or whether you got drafted at all.
“At some point it doesn’t apply anymore. To us it’s about what are you doing now. How are you improving? If you help us win hockey games, who cares?” said Vincent about a player’s draft number.
A pair of first-rounders, Logan Stanley (2016) and Kristian Vesalainen (2017), are still finding their way at the pro level. Stanley, 21, is still growing into his 6-7, 242-pound frame but has shown progress, according to his coach.
“For him to get used to his body and play at the level he needs to play, it’s going to take a little longer than usual,” said Vincent. “I believe he could be called up tomorrow and do a decent job with the Jets, but that’s not the point. We want you to get called up and do so well that you stay there.”
As for Vesalainen, the 21-year-old probably suffers from unfair comparisons to another first-round Finnish player, Patrik Laine, who seamlessly made the jump to the NHL.
“Two different players, two different individuals. Having spent a lot of time with Ves, he puts a lot of pressure on himself and wants to make it really bad,” said Vincent. “I think he’s on the right path but he’s following more of a normal path than the exception.”
Mike McIntyre grew up wanting to be a professional wrestler. But when that dream fizzled, he put all his brawn into becoming a professional writer.
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