The World U17 Hockey Challenge may be dwarfed by its bigger brother, the U20 World Junior Championship, but it provides hockey’s future stars potentially their first taste of international competition. Every year, 10 teams, including five regional Canadian teams, battle it at the U17 for a chance to claim the title as the world’s best for that age group.
This year, Canada's Team Pacific team was led by 16-year-old Jansen Harkins. Harkins, a native of North Vancouver, was selected second overall in the 2012 WHL Bantam Draft by the Prince George Cougars.
Harkins was only two years old when he took his first strides on the ice. Under the careful guidance of his father, former NHL player Todd Harkins, he is developing into one of the best players ever drafted by the Cougars. As a 14-year-old, he dominated the PCBHL playing for the North Shore WC Bantam team. In 74 games, Harkins scored 83 goals and assisted on 70 others for a total of 153 points. His play that year would not only earn him a second overall selection by the Cougars, but a six-game call up to the Vancouver NW Giants midget team, as well. Harkins’ seven points in those six games showed that he was ready to play at the major midget level despite his young age.
The following year, Harkins would play full time for the NW Giants and build off of his earlier success. Once again, as an underage player, the 15-year-old Harkins showed that his skills were equal to or greater than those of the 16- and 17-year-olds in the league. In 37 games for the NW Giants, Harkins’ 59 points were good enough for sixth overall in the league. That same year, as a drafted player, Harkins was allowed to play five games for the Cougars.
According to his father, those five games proved to be invaluable.
“By getting that experience, not just 5 games but 2 weeks of practicing as well, and going through the training camp, really sets these players up as a 16-year-old that they’re able to make that jump. It makes it a little bit easier, especially at the start of the season.”
Todd Harkins also provided a deeper insight to what goes through a young player's mind when getting a chance to play for a junior club for the first time. The first game, says Todd Harkins, the player tries to prove to the team that they didn’t make a mistake in drafting them. Skating hard and minimizing errors is vital to making a good first impression. After that, the player must make the necessary off-ice adjustments to accommodate for the travel and gameday preparations.
While it may seem like Jansen Harkins was always destined to go the CHL route to get to the NHL, it is important to note that Todd Harkins was a former NCAA player. Having reached the highest level of hockey, the elder Harkins was able to advise his son of the pros and cons of both routes.
“Ultimately it was Jansen’s decision and he chose to go to the Western Hockey League, and we support him because it’s his career and his path. We wanted to make sure he was making the right decision so we gave him all the facts before he made that decision.”
On a veteran-laden team like the Cougars, head coach Mark Holick is able to ease Harkins’ transition to the WHL by playing him in sheltered situations. Two-thirds of the way through the 2013-14 season, Harkins has 13 points in 41 games, but more importantly he is learning what it will take to be successful next year when he will be given a bigger role. For now, Harkins has the opportunity to learn from veterans like captain Troy Bourke, a 2012 Colorado Avalanche draft pick.
“We’re very fortunate to have Jansen live with Troy. They billet together with the same family, so I think Troy being the captain of the team and also his billet brother, has really helped Jansen with the transition,” says Todd Harkins.
Harkins was recently selected as captain of Team Pacific for the U17 tournament in Nova Scotia. With six points in six games he was also one of the team leaders in scoring.
Todd Harkins believes the U17 tournament was a good opportunity for his son to gauge his progress as a player.
“I think the experience at the World U17 has been great for him to play against his own age group, just to see how much he has improved from playing against older men in the Western Hockey League.”
In addition to being the father of a promising junior player, Todd Harkins is also the head scout and Director of Player Personnel for the Cougars. When asked to give his assessment of his young son’s game, Harkins did not hold back his praise.
“He plays very intense. He’s very meticulous with his game. He’s a 200-foot player that can skate and handle the puck. He’s a bit of a playmaker more than a goal-scorer. He likes to handle the puck and make plays. He goes to hard areas and takes pride in his backchecking and playing defensively in his own end.”
Back in his playing days, Todd Harkins was an imposing player at 6’3” and 210 pounds. He made his living as a hard-nosed forward who was not afraid to be physical. His son however, still has a ways to go before he can have the same reputation.
“I think the biggest thing he needs to improve on is strength,” says Harkins when asked what parts of his son’s game he would like to see improved.
Additionally, Harkins would also like to see his son continue to work on his skating.
“I’ve always told him that you can never be a good enough skater. He always needs to be working on his skating and his speed and obviously another thing is you always need to be working on your shot, which comes with your strength, as well.”
While the hockey fans in Prince George would much rather forget about how this season is going, Jansen Harkins provides a good reason to be excited about the future of the club.
Robby Jackson and the Chicago Steel took on the Cedar Rapids Roughriders and the Sioux City Musketeers this past weekend. In those two games, Jackson had a combined eight shots and plus one rating.
Next Time in Beyond Tomorrow
The next Beyond Tomorrow feature will take a look at Jordan Greenway. Greenway, a Boston University commit, is a hulking power forward currently playing for the U.S. NTDP in the USHL.