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Patrick Harper: 2016 NHL Draft Prospect Profile

For today's prospect profile at AATJ, we have a late round prospect coming from the nearby state of Connecticut. Patrick Harper is a small, speedy center who does nothing but produce points for Avon Old Farms prep. Will a team take a flyer on him?

Patrick Harper is a Connecticut-born forward who has played the last two seasons for Avon Old Farms prep school in his home state.  After he graduates this year, he has committed to Boston University for the fall, and will be playing there for the near future.  However, it is also worth noting that he was drafted by the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada of the QMJHL last year, but is instead choosing to go to college.

Elite Prospects has Harper standing at a rather short 5'8" and weighing only 154.  So he is a small center who will need to beef up, even for the collegiate level.  However, his benefit is certainly with the numbers that he has produced while at prep school, which have been impressive indeed.  They have been good enough to get him ranked as the #143 North American skater by Central Scouting, which is on par with his #146 midterm ranking.  That might not be a really high for a top prospect from any of the major junior leagues, but for a diminutive prep school forward, being ranked gives him a chance to be drafted, which is a big deal.  There are thousands of kids playing hockey at the high school level, and he is good enough to get ranked by Central Scouting.  That cannot be understated.

Who is Patrick Harper?

Looking at his stats above, you can see that he has been quite productive at Avon Old Farms and elsewhere. Apart from the 4 games he played for the US National U17 team in 2014-15, and the 9 games he played for the Omaha Lancers of the USHL this past season, he has always produced at least a point per game, no matter the level of competition.  The most impressive, of course, come at Avon Old Farms prep, where in his first season he produced 47 points in 22 games (20 of which were goals), and this past season where he put up 59 points in 27 games, with an identical 20 goals.  He was also the captain of the team this year, which adds to his credibility in the locker room as a high character player.

The one area on his stat sheet where sadly he did not do well was at the Hlinka Memorial this year, where he failed to produce a point for the USA U18 team in 4 games.  That is a very small sample size obviously, but it is the biggest international tournament he has played in, and perhaps that is the toughest competition he has played against, and putting up a goose egg there is not great.  However, looking at his overall numbers, that is really the only negative I would consider mentioning, so the overall outlook on his numbers is very positive.

I think in terms of a career path comparison, you can look at Miles Wood who is currently in the New Jersey Devils' pipeline.   Wood played for Noble & Greenough prep school in Massachusetts before committing to Boston College.  The Devils took him in the 4th round a few years back, and he has been developing ever since, producing 35 points in 37 games for BC this past season as a rookie.  That is the trajectory that a team would hope to get from Harper, should they take him.  Harper could perhaps outperform Wood, who did not have nearly as impressive numbers as Harper does at this point in his career, although Wood's 6'1", 185lb frame certainly helps him where Harper's size could be seen as a detriment.

What Others Have Said About Harper

Back in January, Ryan Kennedy of The Hockey News wrote an article about prospects that we need to know. He listed Harper under the "Sleeper Alert" headline, and had this to say about him:

"The prep schooler is leading his Avon Old Farms squad with 20 points in 10 games and he does it with intriguing speed and skill. A little undersized, Harper still plays in all situations and it will be interesting to see how NHL teams view him on draft day."

The fact alone that The Hockey News is profiling a prep school player in the same article as players from the major junior leagues and in Europe is news in and of itself.  That is some high praise.  The comment itself is nothing exceptional, noting that he has intriguing speed and skill.  One would assume just knowing his size that he has to have good speed if he wants to have a chance.  But I really added this simply because it is worth noting his inclusion in such an article.

The best piece of information that I can find on the internet in fact comes from SBNation's own College Hockey blog, where they do a specific preview on him.  I highly suggest clicking the link to head over and read it from there, as Jeff Cox does a great job of identifying who he is and what his strengths are.  There are a lot of positives in the profile, but here are some that stuck out to me:

"A left shot, Harper is a possession type forward who can zoom up the left wall and blow by opposing defenders. On the power play he set up shop on the half wall and the puck went through him. He has a sneaky, quick release on his wrist shot. He has great hands and puts touch on his passes... While he has a little work to do in terms of being ready to be responsible in his own zone, his quickness and grittiness makes him a threat in puck pursuit. He's tenacious and is quick to get on pucks, impacting the penalty kill positively."

Those are some real positives that teams should look into, the Devils perhaps especially because of their current lack of offense.  He is a plus possession guy which is huge for analytics, plus has the speed to generate opportunities while also owning a quick wrist shot and great hands for touch passes.  He does mention needing work on his defensive game, but that would come with simply being in the Devils organization for long enough.  Cox says that while his size is a detriment, his offensive skill set should get him drafted in the late 5th/early 6th.  He also compares Harper to Devils prospect Brett Seney, drafted in the 6th round last year.  If the Devils took a flier on Seney, who had worse career numbers before being drafted, I would love it if they went for Harper as well.

A Little Video

There is one goal video of Harper out there that I can find.  I would love to have more for you, but without playing in a major junior league or being a top prospect, it is somewhat difficult.  The goal, however, is a rather nice one from this past season.  Patrick is #27, but given he never passes it, it is easy to figure out who he is.  It's a sweet one.

My Take

In my personal opinion, I believe that this is the type of player that the Devils should be targeting with their late round picks.  In the late rounds, there will be plenty of forwards from better junior hockey leagues that are available who do not produce nearly as well as Harper does.  They will have the experience playing against better competition, but they will perhaps only have 0.5 points per game over the past two seasons to go along with high penalty minutes.  To me, someone like that has a low ceiling.  They may be a safer pick to be successful in the AHL, but their NHL capabilities probably top out as a fourth liner.

Drafting someone like Patrick Harper is going with the high risk/high reward player.  Given that he has essentially played most of his games in high school or against similar competition except for small stints elsewhere, the jury is really out on what he will be able to do.  How he performs over the next couple seasons at Boston University will tell a lot, but sadly NHL teams will not have that luxury if they want to take him in this year's draft. He may adapt well and become a really strong prospect, or he may falter against tougher competition and become a wasted pick.  There really is just no way to know.

If he does become a strong prospect, however, then wow what a steal.  The team that took him would have themselves a center prospect who has done nothing but produce at over a point per game clip for his entire career, dominating the competition year after year.  His size will always be a concern, but there are those that can play through it and find a way to produce.  Harper may not be that guy, but he just may be.  That is the point of a high risk/high reward pick.  There is a strong chance that it does not work out, but if you happen to catch lightning in a bottle, you find yourself with one of the steals of the draft.

For the Devils, why not take a risk on him? The pipeline is not deep with forwards, and taking that 0.5 PPG center from the CHL in the 5th or 6th round will not improve it any.  That is a given.  While there is only a small chance that Harper improves the forward pool and becomes a strong prospect, there actually is a tangible chance.  And his career numbers are really pretty.  So I say go for it, size and competition concerns aside. I would definitely look for him in the 6th, and perhaps would consider him in the 5th if the big board fell that way.  In the 5th or 6th round, you're looking at a 10-15% chance of finding a NHL regular, and only a 2-5% chance of finding a star anyway.  Why not try to go big and get the potential star?

Your Take

What is your take on Patrick Harper? Do you think he has a tangible chance to succeed against tougher competition, or are you thrown off by his size and who he has played against so far in his career? Do you think that this is the type of player that the Devils should be targeting in later rounds, or do you think the player with more experience against better competition should be the way to go, regardless of point production? Do you have any more information to share about Harper that would be relevant here? Please leave your comments and information below, and thanks for reading.