One aspect of the draft strategy the Tampa Bay Lightning have used in the Steve Yzerman-Al Murray era has been to first stock up on skill, but also not to shy away from drafting a lot of players with experience playing center.
Since the 2010 draft -- Yzerman's first with the Bolts, albeit without his scouting staff having a full year to plan out their board -- the Lightning have drafted 17 forwards. 10 of them have been drafted at center, or moved to center (sometimes at the Lightning's behest) before turning professional or signing a contract.
It's not a bad strategy, considering how so many of the best young players end up playing center, where they get more puck touches and ice time. Centers are often tasked with more defensive responsibility and transition to the wing as pros more easily than an opposite move. Adding another skilled pivot to the prospect pool, especially to backfill as Vlad Namestnikov ascends the depth chart, would be a smart idea, and there's a decent chance a high-skill two-way center falls into their lap at 28th overall.
Meet Jansen Harkins:
Harkins has drawn a lot of praise from scouts this season for doing absolutely everything for the Prince George Cougars of the WHL this season, who, to be blunt, just weren't very good. If the Cougars scored a goal, there's a pretty good chance Harkins was involved in it, and if they managed to stop the opposition from setting up in their end, you can safely assume it's because Harkins was on the ice. From Elite Prospects:
A blue collar type two-way center. Heads-up player who makes high-percentage plays in all three zones; efficient in all situations. Smooth skater. Out-working the opposition and being hard to play against are leadership traits that Jansen Harkins most definitely embodies. (Curtis Joe, EP 2014)
He skates well, sees the ice well, and helps to push play forward making his teammates better. He's a pass-first center and a good puck distributor, but if there's a knock on him it's been that his offensive skill set just hasn't developed as well as some had hoped; his point totals are modest in comparison to other prospects Tampa Bay might be targeting with the 28th pick (like, say, Anthony Beauvillier). That said, he was basically tasked with carrying a mediocre-at-best Prince George squad and was likely a bit overmatched being used as his team's first (sometimes only) offensive threat.
WHL From Above/Future Considerations scout/writer Cody Nickolet also commented on Harkins' still providing point-per-game offense in spite of lack of offensive support from his linemates, and ranked him 4th overall among WHL prospects for the 2015 draft:
Jansen Harkins is a smart playmaking centre for the Prince George Cougars...biggest strength is the way he thinks the game and subsequently sees the ice...displays an extremely mature understanding of how to make a difference in all zones...very strong positionally...his hockey smarts and length really show well in the defensive game giving him value as a potential top-end two-way centre at the next level...either scored or assisted on 36.24% of all Cougars goals during the regular season, the 3rd best mark among first-year draft-eligible WHL forwards this year...can be seen as fairly raw but definitely had a strong year considering an apparent lack of pure offensive depth with the Cougars this year
At 6'1, 183, he's not exactly bowling defenders over, but he's a mite bigger than other center prospects in the system (like, say, the aforementioned Namestnikov and Point, plus Matt Peca, who looks to join the pro ranks this fall) which is an added plus for a Lightning forward prospect pool that is a bit undersized overall.
The guys at Bolt Prospects also weighed in, including Harkins in their 2015 Draft Preview:
A pure playmaking center coming out of the same Prince George WHL team that produced Brett Connolly, Jansen Harkins may be a fairly safe pick for the Lightning given his excellent skating and high hockey IQ. Harkins has been knocked for his tendency to cling to the perimeter, and he's certainly a pass-first distributor, but the Lightning currently don't have many of these types of players coming through the system behind the likes of Drouin and Namestnikov.
- TSN (McKenzie): #30
- TSN (Button): #23
- Future Considerations: #25
- ISS Hockey: #25