Positives And Negatives From Thomas Harley’s Season Debut

DALLAS, TEXAS - SEPTEMBER 16: Thomas Harley #55 of the Dallas Stars during a NHL preseason game at American Airlines Center on September 16, 2019 in Dallas, Texas. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

Going into the 2021-22 season, Thomas Harley was a big blip on the Dallas Stars’ prospect radar. Harley was drafted 18th overall by the Stars in the 2019 entry draft. He led all rookies in the American Hockey League last season, posting 25 points in 38 games. After six games this season, Harley was called up by the Stars on Tuesday night. Harley failed to register a point in the game but was still impressive in his season debut. While it’s unknown how long Harley will stay in the NHL, identifying the good and bad in his game will justify his insertion into the lineup. Here are the positives and negatives from Thomas Harley’s season debut.

Thomas Harley

Harley tore up the Ontario Hockey League posting 130 points over 189 games. Before he even played a game in the AHL, Harley started one game during the 2019-20 NHL Playoffs inside the bubble. He played against the Colorado Avalanche in the seeding round, which teams could not be eliminated. Considering that Jason Robertson, who was rated higher as a prospect, didn’t play in the bubble at all, it shows that Harley has impressed in his short time with Dallas.

Harley again made an impact in his first season in the AHL with the Texas Stars.

“It’s about consistently defending with purpose,” Texas Stars coach Neil Graham said. “You have to want to defend. At the next level, it’s so important to do it fast, do it efficiently. That’s how you get the puck back for offense.”

His career has seemingly been fast-tracked by his production. As Jani Hakanpaa and Andrej Sekera are beginning to struggle as the third-pair defense, Harley looks to become a mainstay on the NHL roster.

Negatives

All young NHL players enter the league with an assumed learning curve. Usually, defensive prospects take more time in the minors. This is due to the speed and efficiency that Graham referenced in his quote.

In his first game, Harley was impressive with a few hiccups. Late in the third period, he pinched too heavily, leading to a two-on-one in the Stars zone. He was able to break up a one-timer on the ensuing play, so his mistake was neutralized. His partner Jani Hakanpaa is a solid defenseman, but I’d like to see more from Harley over his next few games. The point of changing the lineup is to improve the team. Harley needs to be more involved than the 15 minutes of ice time he got on Tuesday night.

The biggest gain in bringing him into the lineup was his creation of offense. Coach Rick Bowness sat Denis Gurianov as a reactionary move to his lack of offensive production. Harley’s usage in the NHL will likely relate to the amount of offense he creates. Last night, Harley’s usage worked against him. He saw zero time on the Stars’ powerplay unit and was only on the ice for 15 total minutes. Harley only took one shot on the night.

Positives

Harley will stay in this lineup if he is productive. His best bet would be to observe Miro Heiskanen this season. Heiskanen has been a terror on offense, as he will relentlessly rush into the offensive zone with the puck. He caught the Jets’ defense off guard multiple times during Tuesday’s game. While Harley gave up a two-on-one while pinching, he is looking to get those same offensive opportunities. His ability to backcheck down the ice and break up the two-on-one in front of the net shouldn’t go unnoticed either.

Harley will need to be more confident in shooting the puck. An over-arching theme of the Dallas Stars offense this season has been to shoot and see what happens. Judging from the praise by Stars coach Rick Bowness, he liked what he saw from Harley. The question for Harley won’t be his skill as a defender or his speed. He will need to learn to adapt to the Bowness’ style to stay on the NHL team.

“His decision making, I can see what he was trying to do. It was always the right one,” Bowness said in the post-game press conference.

The Verdict

Twenty-year-old Thomas Harley is playing his first meaningful minutes in the NHL. A star in the minors, he looks to bring an offensive spark to the Dallas Stars. While he is young and mistakes are excusable, he will need to shoot more to stay in the NHL.

He is locked into the lineup for the time being but has impressed his coaching staff through his first game. Harley needs to learn and modify his play to fit how coach Rick Bowness wants the Stars’ system to work. While the pressure is on Harley to produce, it is exciting that management is equally invested in playing the young defenseman.

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