Harper embraces leadership role
BURLINGTON - Burlington's Stephen Harper is taking on a leadership role on the Erie Otters, serving as a mentor to the team's young superstar Connor McDavid.
Stephen Harper has taken on more responsibility than just scoring goals in his second season with the Ontario Hockey League's Erie Otters.
Leadership comes with age in junior hockey.
As players get older, they are expected to take on bigger roles in guiding their teammates, especially the younger ones, with their words and actions.
When Stephen Harper returned to the Erie Otters for his second season, he was honoured with an “A” on his sweater. But the 17-year-old from Burlington, Ont., took that leadership role even further, asking team officials to have him live with his youngest teammate, phenom Connor McDavid.
“He said he thought he could mentor him,” Otters GM Sherry Bassin says of Harper’s request. “He did that without any encouragement. He came to me of his own free will. That’s the character this kid has.”
So, Harper, the Otters’ first-round draft pick last year, and McDavid, the 15-year-old first overall pick this year who became just the third player given OHL exceptional player status, are billeting with the same family this year.
“It was more just because when I came in as a rookie it would have been kind of nice if I’d had a guy to live with who knew the ropes,” Harper says in reference to adjusting to a new league, a new school and a new country. “I thought it would be better for a guy coming in with that kind of hype and all that pressure on him to have someone help him out, make it a little easier.
“Obviously, he’s done a great job. He’s figured it out pretty quick,” Harper says of McDavid, who leads all rookies in scoring and is top-20 in the OHL.
Harper, a prototypical power forward with size, grit and a scoring touch, had a strong rookie campaign himself. He scored 24 goals last season, third highest among OHL freshmen, despite playing on a young team which finished dead-last in the league and thus secured the top pick in McDavid.
“I play a pretty north-south game, up and down, just crashing and banging and trying to score a few goals,” says Harper. He models himself after the Winnipeg Jets’ Evander Kane, “maybe a bit grittier version of him.”
A more confident Harper, who was eighth among draft eligible players in the OHL in November’s preliminary rankings by NHL Central Scouting, got off to a solid start this season, notching nine points in his first eight games. But he’s trailed off since then, underscoring something that needs to improve.
“Consistency is one of the main things for me,” he says. “It’s just coming to the rink every day and working hard on the skills I need to get better.”
Harper admits that “maybe I was worried a little bit too much” about trying to impress scouts in his NHL draft year, so he’s recently tried to refocus.
“You try not to put too much pressure on yourself,” he says. “I’m just trying to go out there, play my game and not worry about what they think upstairs.”
Bassin thinks Harper has all the tools to excel — he’s big, strong in the corners, goes to the net, takes a hit to make a play and “has a pro shot.”
“As he matures, he’s going to be a very significant player,” Bassin says. “He’s on the right curve, going up, not going down.”
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