Today the Manitoba Moose would have been getting ready to leave Winnipeg to head to Iowa to play in their final road trip of the season. Instead with the season on pause they find themselves like the rest of us in social isolation waiting to hear what will come next for the 2019-20 season. I caught up with Moose head coach Pascal Vincent for a one-on-one telephone discussion this morning and as you might expect when talking to the insightful bench boss there were a number of topics covered and these will be featured on this site throughout the week. We start with the last question I asked him which involved his favourite story of the 2019-20 season.
“Jansen Harkins. Has to be. It has to be.”
It is hard to argue with Vincent after the Jets 2015 2nd rounder put up 31 points in 30 games with the Moose this season including a five assist performance against Grand Rapids Griffins. When you consider Harkins spent time in the ECHL during his rookie campaign, Harkins development has been impressive and he was rewarded with 29 games in the NHL with the Jets this season, scoring twice and adding five assists.
Coach Vincent expanded on his reasoning for choosing the young BC product as his best story of the season.
“Nobody achieves that by himself. It’s probably 95% on him, maybe more. But I think the whole team in general, supporting him and being excited. Most of the time guys are happy when a guy gets called up and goes and plays in the NHL. But for him the whole team was excited. When he got his first point the team was excited. When he got his first goal the whole team was excited.”
Earlier in the conversation I asked him about Harkins development.
“It teaches all of us another great lesson, I think. When you have somebody that is doing the right thing over and over, keeps working and studying the game. The time is spent looking at videos with Marty (Johnston) or myself. Him asking questions and going back in the summer and keep working. Every year he got a little bit faster, a little bit stronger.”
He continued “Players will come in my office and ask questions ‘Am I going to get called up?’ or ‘Will I get called up?’ or even sometimes ‘Why is he getting called up and not me?’ and these are all legitimate questions and that’s my job and I’m getting paid to answer those questions. They’re all fair. But what I can tell you is Jansen never asked any of those questions. It was never about ‘When am I going to get called up?’ or ‘Will I get called up?’ or ‘Why is this guy getting called up and not me? I think I am better than him!’, never did I have to answer any of those questions from him.”
“All he did was do his job, improve and he did it with some kind of silent confidence. He just did his job. Practiced hard. Improved a little bit, improved his skating, improved his speed, improved his release, improved his shot. And you could see it. Little by little the pieces of the puzzle were coming together. To a point where in the second game of the season this year we saw a player that we’ve never seen before. Not that we haven’t seen him play good hockey but now he had all of those things. His reads are fast, his position is good, he is good on faceoffs, he’s playing a 200 foot game, he’s good along the boards, the one-on-one battles in tight he’s strong, he’s driving the net, he has a good stick, he can log heavy minutes at the AHL level so in that game we saw all of this coming together. We had seen some of those pieces at some time in the past but this was in one game. Sometimes a player has an amazing game but the player doesn’t sustain that kind of pace but Jansen did. And he kept getting better. Game after game he was one of, if not the best player on the ice, on both teams.”
“He did a great job at investing in himself, he really did it. Probably that’s the story of 2019-20 for us is Jansen Harkins where he was, the potential that our scouts saw in him when we drafted him and then slowly, year by year, month by month, summer by summer, he just got better. He reached a point where ‘Ok that’s why we drafted him, that’s what he can do’. He did it at the previous level but for him to do it at the pro level and then to go to the NHL, he has that confidence. When he got called up, even though it was a very exciting moment, deep inside he was confident ‘Ok I’m there now, that’s where I’m supposed to be and I am getting a chance’ and he took advantage of it because he was not ready, he was over ready for the opportunity.”
In November Harkins was named AHL player of the Month after he had four goals and 20 assists for 24 points in 15 games for Manitoba (and was tied for 1st overall in AHL scoring). On December 18th he was called up by the Jets for the first time and would only return to play in the AHL All-Star game before heading back up to be with the big club. But as Pascal Vincent concluded in his comments about Jansen Harkins that is all part of the greater plan.
“When we push a player up we don’t want him to come back down, we want to push him up and for him to stay there. Unless its for injury and stuff like that. But when we push a player up the goal is to never see him again in the American League. Jack Roslovic did that, Kyle Connor and Jansen Harkins is one of them.”