There were a lot of people who found the return that the Leafs got for Phil Kessel from Pittsburgh to be underwhelming. Was it fair value for one of the league’s best players? We don’t know for sure, but I would lean towards “probably not”.
All of that may be so, but the Leafs got a pair of Penguins prospects in the trade. One of those prospects, Scott Harrington, was voted by the TLN staff as the Leafs’ 4th-best prospect (and, spoiler alert, that other prospect the Leafs got in the trade was ranked somewhere in the top 5 by the TLN staff as well). Now is that a case of Harrington and that other guy being really good, or is it a case of the Leafs’ prospect pool being not so good?
Realistically, it’s probably a little of both. Let’s take a closer look at Harrington and see why, as some of you may be surprised to see, he was ranked by our staff as the Leafs’ #4 prospect.
THE SCOUTING REPORT
Here’s how Matias Strozyk of Elite Prospects describes Harrington:
A two-way defenseman who skates well. Has good leadership skills. Positions himself very well.
Okay, that’s cool and all, but how about a little more detail? Here’s Pensburgh’s TK-Noodle on him back in 2013:
Harrington is renowned for his solid defensive play, his awareness and
hockey IQ, and his maturity and leadership qualities that make many say
he is pretty much NHL ready as is. Despite the overwhelming positive
reviews, he is not without fault. His offensive abilities are a bit
lacking, and he has been critiqued for not being overly physical for a
shutdown D of his size. But he is nearly unanimously projected to be a
#2/3 NHL D that has been favorably compared to Rob Scuderi and Paul Martin, able to log big minutes in any zone, being a staple on the PK, and playing point on the PP.
This assessment of Harrington might be a little optimistic, but it’s interesting that some thought he was already NHL-ready all the way back in 2013. Here’s at-the-time Assistant Director of Amateur Scouting for the Penguins, Randy Sexton, on Harrington’s game:
“We like the way he plays. He’s a very good skater with good mobility. He
sees the ice well and moves the puck. He has a big strong frame. He
can play with an edge, but needs to do it more consistently. A more
defensive focus than offense, but he’s not incompetent offensively.”
Okay, so this more-or-less backs up what TK-Noodle had to say about Harrington. Basically he’s a sound and versatile two-way defenseman that leans towards the defensive side of the game. It’s no surprise then that Penguins Assistant Coach Tom Agnew described Harrington as, “one of those guys who plays the game the right way.”
That comment was made last fall when Harrington was on the verge of making the Penguins’ big club out of camp. Penguins’ beat writer Dave Molinari added in the article where that quote was found that, “[Harrington] is efficient and responsible all over the ice, consistently makes sound decisions and moves the puck effectively.”
Okay, by now you should have a good idea of Harrington’s game. Again, two-way blueliner that plays, for lack of a better word, an “efficient” game. Let’s move on to the numbers.
You can make arguments both for and against Harrington based on his numbers. For example, Harrington’s production has been pretty underwhelming throughout his career. His points-per-game clip for each of his four seasons with the London Knights in the OHL were 0.25, 0.33, 0.59, and 0.38. He also has just 36 points in 124 AHL games, and has 0 points in 10 NHL games. That’s bad.
Also bad is the 0.90 shots-per-game clip in his brief NHL career (admittedly a very small sample size).
But then it starts to get better, slowly but surely.
For example, Harrington has 156 shots in 124 AHL games, good for a 1.26 shots-per-game clip. That’s not good, but it’s not bad either. For reference, Stuart Percy had a 1.26 shots-per-game clip in the AHL this season.
Okay, how about this. Let’s return to Harrington’s (again, admittedly small) sample of NHL games. Take a look at how his advanced stats measure up with the rest of the Penguins defensemen:
via Behind The Net
As we can see, Harrington actually had some of the best puck possession numbers among Penguins defenders last season. If we glance over to the Quality of Competition section, we can see Harrington also played some reasonably tough minutes. And a look over to the PDO section shows that Harrington had a PDO well beyond the realm of unsustainably low. Again, small sample size, but these numbers bode well for him.
Some more good news for Harrington: the PCS% tool likes him. It gives him a 33.54 PCS% based on his most recent AHL season. Using this tool, the PPG of his NHL comparables is 0.225, and some of the names that he compares with include Andrei Markov, Zbynek Michalek, Kevin Klein, Filip Kuba, Brent Sopel, and Mike Weber. This lines up with the idea that Harrington is a two-way defenseman that leans towards the defensive side of the game.
Another good “number” for Harrington is that he’s already played 10 games in the NHL by the age of 22, less than four full years since being drafted. Typically the players that turn into top-six forwards or top-four defensemen have already played at least a handful of NHL games within four years of being drafted. The PCS% tool backs this up as well: when we use PCS for his 10 NHL games as opposed to his 48 AHL games from last season, his PCS% sky-rockets to a 75.34, or a 3 in 4 historical chance of reaching 200 NHL games played.
To summarize, Harrington:
- has porous point totals
- has a mediocre shot rate
- appears to have good underlying numbers
- fares well using PCS%
SO HOW GOOD IS HE?
The scouting reports on Harrington indicate that he’s effective in every facet of the game. He skates well, moves the puck well, defends well, and doesn’t look lost offensively. That said, Harrington also isn’t an explosive player, he’s not dynamic, and he could stand to be more physical. Really, he’s a defensive-minded two-way defenseman.
By the numbers, Harrington appears to possess a somewhat-limited upside. His point totals and shot totals, as well as his underlying numbers, indicate he likely projects as a second- or bottom-pairing defenseman. However, the numbers also seem to suggest he has a pretty good chance of becoming an NHL regular.
SO WHY IS HE RANKED #4?
The same general reason you rank any prospect at a certain spot – a combination of upside and a likelihood of reaching that upside. For Harrington, it’s especially the fact that he has a strong chance of reaching that upside.
Sure, he projects best as either a second- or third-pairing player, which isn’t an upside as high as say Jeremy Bracco. But Bracco has other major holes – skating, size, defense, shot rates – that make him all but a wildcard as far as one day reaching the NHL. No, Harrington’s game and his numbers won’t drop your jaw, but they’re also good enough that they leave you confident that he’s going to become an NHL regular some day. What capacity that will be in is hard to say, but once you get past the raw undeniable skill of the three Leafs prospects ranked ahead of Harrington, he becomes, if nothing else, the safest bet to stick with the Leafs now and in the future.
CONCLUSION: A LOOK AHEAD
It’s going to be an interesting year ahead for Harrington. He has a real chance of cracking the Leafs out of camp in a depth role. If that doesn’t happen he’ll go down to the Marlies and play important minutes for them. And as the season progresses, there’s a good chance we’ll be seeing him in place of other Leaf regulars, whether it’s due to injury, suspension, or underwhelming play. Whatever the case is, we’ll probably be seeing Harrington in a Leafs jersey at some point this season. After that who knows, but I bet you he’s considered a full-time Leaf by the start of the 2016-2017 season.