This is the third instalment of our RFA Spotlight series where we are examining the future of the four prominent RFA’s for the Jets. We have already discussed the future potential contracts and team roles of Jack Roslovic and Mason Appleton.
Today’s conversation will be slightly different as we talk about Jansen Harkins. Even though all of these RFA’s came from the same draft class, Harkins has taken the longest road to get to the NHL, only appearing with the Jets in the 2019-2020 season.
After two full seasons in the AHL, Harkins took a huge step forward in 2019-20. He scored 31 points in 70 games in 2018-19 and then smashed those numbers one year later by scoring 31 points in only 30 games. That huge scoring outburst allowed him to get a shot with the Jets later in the season.
All it took was one chance for Harkins to make a strong impression. His strong work ethic and tireless energy made him a great fit in the bottom six where he played 29 games in the second half of the year.
His quick rise from AHL to NHL was perhaps best articulated by Paul Maurice this summer.
This is phenomenal. Must watch for all kids that want to play at a high level. pic.twitter.com/MZVDhwXKsb
— Topher Scott (@TopherScott_) August 4, 2020
Harkins provided a much-needed boost in the bottom six by providing great energy and forechecking compared to the veterans used earlier in the year. He’s a great fix in the bottom six due to his style of play. Harkins isn’t the most skilled player, rather he does his damage through his effort and tenacity. The Jets desperately lack players with that extra level of energy which gives Harkins an edge to make the team going into next season.
Obviously Harkins seems like he will play for the Jets and not the Moose next year, but it might depend on the type of free agents Winnipeg brings in. In my opinion, no matter who gets brought in, Harkins needs to be in the lineup to start the year. His upside in the bottom six is great and the team needs to give him a chance to develop into a full-time NHL player.
Prediction: Barring injury, Jansen Harkins plays every game for the #NHLJets next season.
— Scott Billeck (@ScottBilleck) August 7, 2020
When watching Harkins play, there definitely seems to be more offense available in his game. We saw flashes of it throughout the year and with a bit more experience he will likely find his scoring touch at the NHL level.
Take this wicked shot on the breakaway as an example of the skill Harkins possesses.
Looking into the future, Harkins will likely turn into a productive NHL player. He’s a former second-round pick, as he was drafted 47 overall in 2015. Even though we have seen strong scoring numbers in junior and the AHL, Harkins will likely not produce at a high level with the Jets. Being a winger, he’s behind a number of players in Winnipeg and there’s no chance that he will get a shot in the top six. With Connor, Wheeler, Ehlers, Laine, Roslovic, and Appleton all currently above him on the depth chart, it leaves him as a fourth-line option next season.
The best case for Winnipeg is that Harkins provides some much-needed offense on the fourth line while being the type of player who could move up the depth chart if injuries arise. Harkins will hopefully settle into that fourth-line role for the next few seasons as he transitions into a full-time player for the Jets.
One more thing to keep in mind is that Harkins is no longer exempt from waivers due to him just finishing his third professional season. Because he signed his ELC at age 20, he only gets thee years of waivers exemption. Those three years have now expired which means Winnipeg would risk losing him if they tried to send him back to the Moose. This makes the case to keep Harkins even stronger as the Jets shouldn’t risk losing him for nothing.
It appears that Harkins is here to stay, albeit in a fairly limited fourth-line role. His contract will likely be on the shorter end of the spectrum because he will probably try to cash in with a bigger deal in a few years. He’s the type of player that could do well by betting on himself to perform. High energy players can often get rewarded for their style of play, just look at former Jet winger Brandon Tanev who signed a six-year deal last summer worth $3.5 million per year. The comparison between players isn’t too far off as Tanev signed a one year deal with Winnipeg after playing 51 games in his first year during 2016-17. That deal was worth 700k at the time. Look for Harkins to sign a similar type of contract with a one or two year deal near the league minimum of 700k.