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Keefe: “If I was a Canadiens fan, I’d be very excited about Jordan Harris”

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Montreal Canadiens

The wait is over for Montreal Canadiens fans, as Jordan Harris is now officially a member of the Montreal Canadiens and will be playing his first games for the club very shortly.

Harris has been a hot topic of conversation for Montreal Canadiens fans for the last year, as the Canadiens’ 2018 3rd round pick decided to return to college to play in his senior year at Northeastern University. The speculation was rampant that Harris could opt not to sign with the Montreal Canadiens and instead opt to become an unrestricted free agent, due to a loophole in the NHL’s collective bargaining agreement. On Saturday, those fears were put to rest when the Montreal Canadiens announced Harris had signed his two-year entry-level contract with the Montreal Canadiens.

Jordan Harris has already begun winning over fans with his soft-spoken nature and thoughtful interviews, but those within the Montreal Canadiens’ circles are eager to see what he can bring to the team moving forward.

In order to get to know more about Harris, his playing style and his persona, Montreal Hockey Now sat down with Jim Madigan, Director of Athletics at Northeastern University and current head coach of the Huskies, and Jerry Keefe, the current head coach of the Huskies. The praise and appreciation for Harris were striking, and admittedly well-deserved, as Harris left a lasting impression during his time with the Huskies, an experience that is sure to serve him well in his NHL career.

What to expect with the Montreal Canadiens

Throughout the last year, there have been many that have questioned the hype surrounding a player like Harris. The smooth-skating defenceman is hard to describe to those who haven’t yet had a look at him on the ice; he plays a strong defensive game, coupled with a penchant for quick transition and smart decision-making. When asked to describe his former captain, Madigan maintained that Harris was a well-rounded defenceman capable of playing any role, but then went deeper into Harris’ aptitudes on the ice.

“He’s going to be a puck-moving defenceman. He’ll help a great deal with defensive zone breakouts, he’s going to help in transition and when in the offensive zone, he’s going to contribute to the generation of offence,” said Madigan on Harris’ style of play. “He’s got the skillset to be a real good puck-moving defenceman.”

Harris was one of the best defencemen in all of the NCAA when it came to successful defensive zone exits. It helped drive Northeastern’s possession game and transition, while greatly limiting the amount of time the opposition spent in Northeastern’s zone. Coach Keefe shared Madigan’s views on what Harris could bring at the NHL level, but also went a little deeper, highlighting Harris’ intangibles and giving him quite the personal endorsement.

“He’s a breakout machine, an underrated defender and is far tougher than many will expect,” said Keefe when asked to describe Jordan Harris’ game. “The best teammate you can ever imagine. If you could clone that kid (laughs), it would be great. If I was a Montreal Canadiens fan, I’d be really excited about Jordan Harris.”

His experience in the NCAA and his style of play, predicated on quick transition and top-end hockey sense, fit well with the type of style new head coach Martin St. Louis is looking to build in Montreal. The Montreal Canadiens want to become a team focused on speed and skill, and that kind of style cannot be executed without defenceman capable of moving the puck quickly and efficiently; something Jordan Harris thrives at.

“I think Jordan’s going to flourish under a guy like Martin St. Louis,” said Madigan on Harris’ potential in Montreal. “Martin already knows Jordan, having his son Ryan on the team, and he’s an excellent communicator, something Jordan responds to very well. He’ll settle in, get his feet wet, make some mistakes and learn quickly. He respects the players in the NHL; he’s going to work his way into that role. With the pressure in the market, he does a good job of pushing that aside. He lives by the motto of  ‘control what you can control.’”

Harris is part of the new wave of defencemen in the NHL that play both sides of the puck with great efficacy without necessarily being as dynamic as the Cale Makars or Quinn Hughes. He’ll rarely ever put his team in trouble, and will often be that forgotten man on the scoresheet who sets up the play, the “third assist” type of defenceman. When asked to provide some sort of comparable, both of Harris’ coaches paused for a while, and it was Keefe that was able to pinpoint one defenceman in particular.

“I think a guy like Nick Leddy, especially when he was with the New York Islanders, comes to mind when I see Harris play,” said Keefe. “Both are tremendous skaters, play an all-around solid game, move the puck effectively and defend well.”

After going back to look at some tape on Leddy’s time with the Islanders, the comparable is more than valid. Like Leddy, Harris’ game is based on great skating, seamless transition and calm defending. Should Harris evolve into a similar player capable of playing top-4 minutes on a regular basis, it would be a huge help to the Canadiens’ future.

“He was at the heart of much of our offence this season, due to his exceptional ability to transition the puck,” said Keefe regarding Harris’ impact on the ice. “You want to get a true feel for Jordan Harris, go watch him play 26-28 minutes a game and see how he impacts the game. ”

 

A Quick Learner

With Harris set to begin his NHL career, it was important to discuss how Harris adapts to new environments. Madigan and Keefe broke down how quickly and efficiently Harris is able to adapt to his new environments, as they recounted his jump from prep school to NCAA hockey at the tender age of 18.

“He made the jump to the NCAA from prep school; not many players do that,” said Keefe on Jordan Harris’ ability to adapt to new environments. “We had a guy like Jeremy Davies on the team, so offensively, he learned a lot from playing with Jeremy early on. He learned from the older guys quickly with Davies and Ryan Shea. When you play with good players and good leaders, you progress far quicker, and Jordan was a great student.”

Harris was a permanent fixture in the Huskies’ top-4 within a few games and consistently played over 20 minutes a game within his first month in the NCAA. He got better every game and was even asked to play on his offside due to Davies and Shea being left-handed shooting defencemen. Despite all that pressure and added responsibility, Harris thrived in his role and never once looked out of place.

“We put Jordan out there right away as a freshman, and that top-4 played an awful lot,” said Madigan regarding Harris’ almost instant transition to NCAA hockey. “His poise and his patience allowed him to make the transition from high school hockey to Division 1 hockey, which is remarkable.”

What allowed Jordan to establish himself that quickly was his even-keel nature, never allowing himself to get overwhelmed in the moment despite all the responsibility that was being thrown at him. Whenever Harris would make a mistake, he wouldn’t dwell on it too long; he’d simply add it to the memory bank and jump right back out the next shift.

“As a young player, you try and place him next to good players, like Jeremy Davies and Ryan Shea, and he responded very well,” said Madigan about Harris’ first games at Northeastern. “He never got flustered; he never got starstruck. He knew he was going to make some mistakes, and he learned from those mistakes almost instantly. He worked his rear end off, he absorbed things quickly, and that gave us confidence as a coaching staff.”

Early in his NCAA career, Harris showed that he could adapt quickly to the reality put in front of him. His intelligence and his solid work ethic were just a few reasons why his former coaches feel that it’s just a matter of time before he’s winning over Montreal Canadiens fans.

 

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