It’s time for our annual countdown of the best 25 Nashville Predators players under 25 years old.
This is not only a tradition here at OTF, but is also something that you might see at many other SBNation NHL blogs. The premise is simple: rank the 25 best players who have not yet reached their 25th birthday (as of August 1st, 2017).
At #18, Patrick Harper.
The speedy, undersized center drafted out of prep school hockey in Connecticut has been garnering attention lately as one of Nashville’s more underrated prospects. Harper, who just finished his freshman season at Boston University alongside Dante Fabbro, is an atypical example of prep players joining the NCAA ranks with little or no American junior experience (Harper only played 9 games in the USHL).
However, based on his first year production, Harper fit right in. Finishing second on the Terriers in points last year behind Coyotes’ pick Clayton Keller, Harper made the college hockey world take notice regardless of his diminutive size.
Despite being drafted in the fifth round, Harper is already projecting to be a high-end scorer at the NHL. His size isn’t exactly congruent with the popular idea of the big, bruising top centers of the Western Conference, but he plays a similar style game to younger, smaller players that are redefining roles in today’s NHL (i.e. Conor Sheary or Tyler Johnson).
Harper plays center in an interesting manner. At times he can be a playmaking, pass-first set-up man that camps out on the half wall on the power play, but at times he can drive and finish the play with elite execution on his own much like a winger would breaking through the neutral zone.
Although Harper scored at a point per game pace with an exceptional shooting percentage, he experienced a fair amount of goal droughts lasting three to six games. Of the 38 games he played, he failed to register a point in 13 of them. This isn’t uncommon at the NCAA level, especially for a freshman, but it will be wise to keep an eye on Harper’s production per game over the next couple of seasons as he begins to play more in all situations.
Harper received his first taste of international hockey last season at the World Junior Championships (WJC) where he scored 1 goal in 7 games for America as they captured the gold medal. Harper is currently participating in the World Junior Summer Showcase, an audition for the WJC, for the USA alongside Preds’ prospects David Farrance, Dante Fabbro, and Samuel Girard.
Harper’s highlights from this past season show us a few things. First, his awareness on the ice, particularly in the offensive zone, is fairly noticeable. He doesn’t exactly buy into the cycle right away and feels, if he has space, he can create another opportunity.
Secondly, he’s exceptional at creating space. He’s clearly able to blaze past stick checks and other impediments and can float well enough to find open space and spread out the offensive attack.
Finally, his positional versatility. As the offensive positional structure becomes more fluid in hockey, Harper’s ability to drive wide the puck and set up a tap-in or wrap-around will be skills to watch. Passing lanes below the dots in the offensive zone are harder than ever to come by, but Harper does a good job of getting around that. He also has shown he can enter the zone as a trailing winger and put up points using his above-average wrist shot.
I would expect Harper to play at least two more seasons at Boston University. Don’t be surprised if the Preds look to sign him out of college early. If Harper continues to produce as he is, he should be playing pro hockey in no time with legitimate NHL aspirations as a top-6 forward.
Harper, as an NCAA athlete, is currently unsigned. The Preds maintain his rights until August 15th after his graduation - August 15th, 2020.