Photo by Mark Box/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
The organization has just two more prospects approaching free agency this summer.
The Nashville organization has kept themselves busy over the past couple weeks taking advantage of the paused season to get some contracts done. On March 20, the Predators announced the signing of forward Patrick Harper to a two-year entry-level contract beginning in the 2020-21 season.
Harper, who just completed his senior season for the Boston University Terriers, was scheduled to hit free agency on August 15 had Nashville not signed him beforehand.
By The Numbers
The benefit of drafting college-bound prospects, from my perspective, is that you get ample time with them in the pipeline to really understand the strengths and weaknesses of their game. Harper was a fifth-round pick of Nashville in 2016 after a 59-point campaign for Avon Old Farms in Connecticut.
Harper was expected to contribute for the Terriers right away and did not disappoint; he finished second in team scoring (behind Clayton Keller) his freshman year with 37 points in 38 games. The 5’7” forward had his first two NCAA seasons highlighted by trips to the World Junior Championship (WJC) with Team USA, but after a point-per-game start to his sophomore year, a respiratory illness knocked Harper out of the lineup after the 2018 WJC.
The tribulations of those middle years at Boston have been well-documented; Harper struggled to regain his footing when he returned for his junior year and only amassed 20 points in 38 games. But his senior year was exactly what should have been expected. Harper lined up alongside Ducks prospect Trevor Zegras each night and was as instrumental as David Farrance in orchestrating the successes of the Terriers’ season. Harper finished second in team scoring with 14 goals and 37 points in 32 games.
Via my hand-tracked advanced statistics, Harper was a dominant possession player at even-strength, and his numbers are eye-popping. In ten games tracked, Harper maintained nearly a 57 percent Corsi rating, but his individual Corsi rates tend to be low and you can see why as he often chooses pass over shot. What’s most impressive, however, is his zone exit and entry rates; Harper maintained possession over 70 percent of the time when exiting the defensive zone and entering the offensive zone.
The Scouting Tape
The strengths of Harper’s game stand out immediately when you watch him play; he’s oozes offensive talent from passing to possession to shooting. “He’s dynamic. He can make plays out of nothing. He’s elusive. He has a missile for a shot for a small guy. He’s really good in puck pursuit on puck pressure, so it allows him to steal a lot of pucks,” said Harper’s head coach Albie O’Connell (courtesy of John Connolly of the Boston Herald).
Harper’s wrist shot is so effective that it’s infuriating he doesn’t use it more. He has such a precise control of his stick blade both in open ice and when pressured by the opposition that, at times, it’s nearly impossible to tell how quickly he’s getting the shot off like in the clip above.
It certainly helps that he is such a dynamic puck-handler, too. One of the most effective skills taught at younger levels of hockey is the ability to maintain speed while constantly cradling the puck. You see this often at all levels of the game: there are players who push the puck and those who caress it. Harper constantly has it moving on his stick blade, and it allows him to be so successful with dynamic zone exits and entries and to default to a different shot or change up his pass if the defense takes away his first avenue.
Harper displays such an excellent commitment to being creative with his stick that he’s able to create plays out of nothing as his head coach noted above. In this clip – one of my favorite plays from this season – Harper, instead of a typical stick check, uses the toe of his blade to dagger the puck backwards and then dish out a primary assist.
Despite being a smaller player, Harper commands immense respect in the offensive zone for two reasons: he can skate his way out of any situation with a rapid crossover step and fluid edge work and, if that fails, he can often stickhandle to safety. The clip above displays what leads to so much of Harper’s success; it may seem small, but he’s so flawless at transitioning from receiving a pass to commencing the cycle to driving north and attacking the net. And, that entire time, he has his stick blade perfectly positioned to pass or shoot.
Harper and Farrance were unstoppable on the power play this season for the Terriers and you can see why in the clip above. Harper is comfortable quarterbacking play from the blue line, but settles in better on the right dot where he can use his wrist shot or stick handling to pull opposing players out of a diamond or box-style penalty kill.
With his offensive talent and foot speed at an above average level, I anticipate Harper can produce similarly to Rem Pitlick in his first full year in Milwaukee. I would expect ample time on the power play and even-strength time with a center like Pitlick or Gaudreau who can complement his play-making ability.
Nashville signed Harper to a two-year entry-level contract through the 2021-22 season. Each year comes with a $925K cap hit and a $70K salary in Milwaukee.
Upon expiry, Harper will be a restricted free agent.