Thomas Harley’s time is seemingly now. The 21-year-old got his feet wet in the NHL last season and learned a ton from his time on the taxi squad during the COVID years. With the departure of John Klingberg, the door looked to have swung wide open for Harley to become a full-time NHL player.
However, through the first week of camp and the preseason, he has not looked to take the bull by the horns as many of us expected and looks to be losing ground in the battle for a roster spot. He was a non-factor in his first game and seems to be spending a lot of time in his own end rather than pushing the puck up the ice, his strongest asset.
“Thomas has got all of the tools, just working on that shift to shift competitiveness allows you to let your offensive instinct take over," Head Coach Pete DeBoer said. "If you are winning the puck battle, you've got the opportunity to play on offense and show what you can do and the best parts of your skillset. If you lose that battle and spend the shift defending, you don't get an opportunity to do what you do best. That's the battle with him.”
Consistency at the NHL level has been a recurring issue for Harley. As is often with young prospects, he has struggled to find the intensity needed to be successful at the highest level of play on a nightly basis.
The effect has trickled into the special teams' aspect of the game as well. As camp has progressed, Harley has been seeing less time on the power play. For a player with a huge offensive upside, that is a bit alarming. Because of the four-forward power play and pack of players capable of manning the blue line, Harley has found himself on the opposite side, killing penalties and searching for his role.
“I think we know he's got offensive tools, we know he can play on the power play,” DeBoer said of Harley. “The reality with our group is that he's probably not a day-one power-play guy, I think he has the potential to grow into that. If you are not a day one-power-play guy, you're going to have to fill a role and kill some penalties. He has the ability, he has range, he's got feet, he's got size, he should be able to do that.”
With guys like Nils Lundkvist, Joel Hanley, and Colin Miller battling for one-bottom pairing, Harley is in a tougher spot than he would have liked. The good news for him is that his fate is completely in his own hands. He just has to take it.