MISSISSAUGA—Thomas Harley becomes bright eyed when the phrase “World Juniors” is uttered.
Like many young hockey players and fans, Harley has fond memories sitting around the TV with his Dad and brother, soaking in the World Junior Hockey Championship. But what differentiates the defenseman is that he grew up in Syracuse, New York. Where television access to the premier global junior hockey tournament is limited compared to cities and towns in Canada.
“We managed to get those games despite living in the U.S.” said Harley. “I have fond memories watching the World Juniors in the basement of my home with my Dad and brother.”
Harley’s eagerness to watch and learn from the future prospects speaks to his temperament as a player. A willingness to learn and an eagerness to improve his game. Playing on a Mississauga Steelheads OHL team that is stressing the importance of defense, Harley has become the anchor of the team’s blue line.
Last Friday, the Dallas Stars prospect recorded a career-high nine shots, in a close 3-2 loss to the Hamilton Bulldogs. The next night, Harley recorded his eighth goal of the season, as the Steelheads defeated the Niagara Icedogs 4-2. One week later, the defenseman will be sporting the red and white for Team OHL as they take on Team Russia in the annual CHL Canada/Russia Series.
Thomas Harley Building from Last Year’s Canada/Russia Series
This is the second consecutive year Harley is competing in the Canada/Russia series. Last year, Harley was grateful to be selected to play with Ontario’s best junior prospects as the only 17-year old defenseman. Now, the youngster wants to show Team Canada coaches Dale and Mark Hunter that he belongs as a stable defensive presence for the Canadian World Junior Team.
“Last year, I got scored on first because I wasn’t used to the speed,” said Harley. “Coming in this year, I have that knowledge and recognize that I need to be a lot faster.”
The Steelheads knew what they were getting in Harley when he was selected 14th overall in the 2017 OHL Priority Draft. A strong physical presence on the blue line who can move the puck with ease. At 6-foot-3, Harley does the little things at a high level, whether it is breaking out into the neutral zone, making the smart pass out of his own end and setting up his teammates for scoring opportunities. According to Mississauga Steelheads head coach James Richmond, Harley’s hockey sense is the impetus for an improved defensive game this season.
“Thomas takes over games and shifts,” said Richmond. “He is the reason why we have the puck a lot. His transition from defense to offense is quick as anybody in the OHL.”
Harley Relishing Opportunity to Hopefully Make World Junior Team
Harley had his best junior season last year, registering 58 points (11 goals, 47 assists) in 68 games. This raised his NHL draft as this placed Harley 8th among OHL defensemen in points and 4th among defensemen in total assists. The Dallas Stars jumped on the opportunity, selecting Harley with the 18th overall selection in the 2019 NHL Entry Draft.
Being at the Stars training camp provided a multitude of lessons for Harley, including how to be a veteran leader and the facets of his defensive game that he needs to improve on.
“Those guys defend really hard in the NHL,” said Harley. “You need to learn a lot of little things and it doesn’t happen overnight. It happens over a period of time and hopefully next year I can make the team.”
In addition to becoming more NHL ready, Harley is eager for a chance to compete on the international stage as a member of Team Canada’s World Junior squad. Last season, he was selected to Canada’s U18 roster, where he generated one goal and three assists at the U18 Championships.
Strong performances for Team OHL in Kitchener and London will go a long way in whether Harley gets selected to World Junior training camp. For the Stars defensive prospect, it would be a full circle achievement, which he credits to his family for helping him achieve. The only difference; his family members won’t have trouble finding World Junior streams when they will be in attendance live to cheer on their son.
“My Dad was my coach in Bantam so he taught me everything I know about hockey,” said Harley. “They definitely were big influences in where I am today in the sport.”