With two-year deal, Harkins could be here to stay

HIS road to the NHL wasn’t always smooth. But after making a terrific first impression with the big club, Jansen Harkins looks like he might just be here to stay.

The 23-year-old forward signed a two-year contract with the Winnipeg Jets on Tuesday that will pay him US$725,000 per season. It’s a one-way deal, unlike his previous entry-level pact that included a tiny fraction of that salary in the minors. Now, he’ll make the full pay regardless of where he plays.

Harkins, a native of British Columbia, was drafted in the second round, 47th overall, of the 2015 NHL draft. His development path included some early struggles with the Manitoba Moose of the AHL, and even a demotion to the ECHL’s Jacksonville Icemen in an attempt to regain some lost confidence.

But hard work and dedication paid off for the son of former NHLer Todd Harkins. He took a major step forward last season, with 31 points (seven goals, 24 assists) in his first 30 games with the Moose en route to being named the club’s most valuable player for the 2019-20 season.

Harkins was also called up by the Jets for the first time, and instantly showed he belonged. He had two goals and five assists in 29 games, cementing himself as a reliable, versatile forward who could move and up and down the lineup. He also had a goal in three playoff games against the Calgary Flames in the Edmonton bubble.

Harkins really blossomed on a line with fellow 2015 draftees Jack Roslovic and Mason Appleton.

He will be given every opportunity to earn full-time work with the Jets this coming season, especially with forwards Cody Eakin, Nick Shore, Gabriel Bourque and Logan Shaw leaving the organization as unrestricted free agents. Winnipeg did reacquire centre Paul Stastny in a trade with Vegas, and also signed Nate Thompson and Dominic Toninato as depth options.

Roslovic is currently being dangled by the Jets as a trade chip in an attempt to bolster the blue line, which could lead to an even bigger role for someone such as Harkins.

As well, his deal, just US$25,000 above the league minimum, makes Harkins a valuable asset for a team such as Winnipeg that is right up against the US$81.5-million salary cap ceiling and needs productive players on cheap contracts.

Roslovic, along with defenceman Sami Niku, are now the two remaining restricted free agents who need to be re-signed. Their new deals would likely push Winnipeg over the limit, although the Jets are expected to move Bryan Little to long-term injured reserve, which would give them relief from his US$5.291-million salary.

But additional roster juggling, which could impact Harkins, may still be required. Niku’s name has also been mentioned in trade talks, especially as it pertains to potentially clearing some salary by moving veteran, oft-injured winger Mathieu Perreault, who is slated to make US$4.125 million this season while slotted in a bottom-six role.

The NHL is still targeting a potential Jan. 1 start to the 2020-21 season, but what that might look like remains unclear with COVID-19 numbers still rising in many markets, including Winnipeg, and major restrictions on crowd gatherings and travel still in place. The league and a committee of players are expected to ramp up discussions in the next couple weeks to chart a course.

mike.mcintyre@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @mikemcintyrewpg

Mike McIntyre

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