If you’ve read my material before, you probably know I’m a big believer in Jordan Harris and his game. I’m in the camp that believes he was one of the Canadiens’ strongest defensemen this year, alongside his partner Jonathan Kovacevic. But as is always the case with young players, especially rookies, that doesn’t mean there aren’t areas of his game that cannot be improved upon.
And that brings us to another edition of the “Rookie Report Card,” a little series we’ve done here on A Winning Habit to highlight the performances of each of the Habs rookies. We’ll look at the good parts of their game and the areas that need improvements before giving them a final grade that’s based on performance relative to expectations. This season, the Canadiens had an abnormally large amount of rookie players, so we still have plenty of players to cover. You can read the previous two editions here:
With Jordan Harris, I think expectations for him were somewhat low for him, in large part because of the style of game he plays. In an article I wrote before the season, I suggested that Harris plays a quiet game, and he’s likely at his best when you hardly even notice him on the ice unless you’re looking out for him. He’s not flashy, but he’s smooth and steady, making intelligent and effective plays with and without the puck. So it’s a good thing if he had smaller expectations than a Kaiden Guhle or a Juraj Slafkovsky. It means fans, we’re being realistic. So continue to keep that in mind as we discuss Harris and his rookie season.
Jordan Harris – The Good News
Harris may not be flashy or produce a lot of points, but he still showed his value to the Canadiens this year in a big way. Advanced stats indicate that Harris, alongside his partner Kovacevic, were the Canadiens’ best defensemen. When on the ice, specifically at 5v5, Harris was fifth in GF% and third in xGF%. Essentially, in a season in which the Canadiens were often outplayed, their best play often came when Harris was on the ice.
And that isn’t to say he was perfect, as despite finishing third, no Canadiens player had an xGF% over 50%, which is the baseline. This means that the Canadiens still gave up more xGF when Harris was on the ice than they generated, but not by a significant margin. And not to sound like I’m deflecting blame, but a lot of that does have to do with the quality of teammates surrounding Harris, specifically upfront.
His offensive output doesn’t jump off the page, but he was great at creating offense for the Canadiens this year. He sees the game at an above-average level and can make effective and smooth plays under pressure. He doesn’t panic, and it frequently translates into offense at the other end of the ice. His composure is an effective attribute that allows him to contribute even if the points aren’t there yet.
The other area in which Harris was particularly impressive was on the PK, although he wasn’t deployed as often as some other Canadiens defensemen. Him being an effective penalty killer could be huge for the Canadiens, as their PK was amongst the worst in the league this year and has remained a thorn in their side for a couple seasons now. Let’s hope Harris gets more minutes, and they can change their misfortunes down a man.
Jordan Harris – The Bad News
There really isn’t much to pick apart with Harris’ game, as I wouldn’t say he does much poorly. I think there are areas I’d like to see more improvement in, but both the eye test and statistics say that in his current role, he’s thriving. I will be interested to see if he can maintain that going into next year and if his numbers balloon as more talent joins the roster. I would like to see Marty St. Louis and Stephane Robidas keep him paired with Kovacevic, as they complement each other so well. I’d also like to see them pick up heavier assignments to see if they can handle it and perhaps take the load off of other defensemen, particularly those struggling in tougher roles.
I’d also like to see more aggression from Harris, as he created lots of offense, but I think he can find another gear. A lot of good happens when he jumps into the zone more. All four of his goals this season came around the hash marks, acting more as a forward than a defenseman. He doesn’t really have a heavy slapshot, so most of his goals will likely be a by-product of joining the rush. He just needs to do that more. Perhaps he’ll start to feel more comfortable and make that adjustment on his own. Maybe he needs someone to tell him to do it more, but I think both he and the Canadiens would benefit from jumping into the zone more often.
Jordan Harris – The Bottom Line
I will continue to shout from the rooftops my love for the Harris-Kovacevic pair, one of the most underrated in the NHL. I was very pleased with Harris’ rookie season, as I’m sure many other people were. Heck, even the Canadiens were, as they rewarded him with a two-year contract extension, and he earned it.
Look, Harris will likely never garner Norris votes, nor will he likely be a Hall of Famer, but he is an excellent bottom-four defenseman. He can be used in various situations and eventually be a solid veteran on the team. He’s the kind of unsung hero every great team has. I can see him ultimately wearing an A for the team, as he did at Northeastern before earning the captaincy in his senior season. The Canadiens got a solid defenseman in Harris, and I suspect he’ll be roaming the Canadiens’ blueline for a long time.