Photo Credit: Ian Goodall/Goodall Media Inc
Brett Harrison is a 2021 NHL Draft eligible prospect from London, Ontario. He was drafted 16th overall in the 2019 OHL Priority Selection by the Oshawa Generals. He entered this season high on watch lists after a successful rookie season with Oshawa posting 21 goals and 16 assists in 58 games. Surpassing 20 goals as a rookie is a notable feat in the OHL. In 2019-20, only two other players shared that milestone: top 2021 NHL draft prospect Mason McTavish of the Peterborough Petes and exceptional status grantee Shane Wright (2022) of the Kingston Frontenacs.
Similar to fellow 2021 draft-eligible OHLers Brandt Clarke, Mason McTavish, Daniil Chayka, Brennan Othmann, Francesco Pinelli, Logan Mailloux, and Francesco Arcuri, Brett was among the few players who were fortunate enough to find a temporary home in Europe while the OHL season was suspended. In January, Harrison was loaned to KOOVEE in the Mestis based out of Tampere, Finland. He spent most of his time with their U20 club, which has been struggling to compete in the U20 SM-Sarja, winning only 10 of 32 games over the past two seasons. Although Brett joined a weaker team than he was used to in Oshawa, the opportunity to play hockey, after what was likely the longest pause in his career, would have been an extremely positive experience for a young player trying to showcase his talents for the 2021 NHL draft.
D.O.B – June 7, 2003
Nationality – Canada
Draft Eligibility – 2021
Weight –188 lbs
Position – Center
Handedness – Left
Harrison’s Style of Play
If you were to watch a Brett Harrison highlight reel, by the end of it, you would start to feel like you were experiencing déjà vu. His goals all follow a similar script that includes Brett in front of the net, getting a small amount of separation from defenders, and scoring with a tip, rebound, or one-timer. Brett’s offensive contributions rely on his superb ability to find open space around the net. He uses his size to battle for position in front of the net, and he consistently puts himself in favorable positions to gain an advantage on defenders. He is always hovering around the slot, looking to find a hole to give him that split second he needs to receive a pass and find the back of the net.
The screenshots below from InStat Hockey illustrate perfectly what Brett Harrison’s playstyle offers: goals from around the net. Not only is that where he scores from, but he also rarely misses opportunities when handed them, converting on 70% of his shots from the home plate area of the ice.
His style of play thrives in the North American game that focuses more on the dump and chase and operates from low in the zone. He isn’t overly physical, but Brett is an aggressive forechecker who consistently applies the first line of pressure to defenders. His relentless forecheck can be a nightmare for the opposition trying to retrieve pucks and break out of their zone. Brett works well off the cycle, using his size to protect pucks along the boards and then rotates into space in front of the net from where he is most effective. In addition to the net-front play and persistent forecheck, Harrison has showcased that he has a set of hands that he applies practically around the net to beat goaltenders.
He has a solid shot and has shown that he can beat goaltenders from outside high danger, but he rarely is seen taking shots from the perimeter. His style of play, which prospers from in tight, doesn’t necessarily need a lethal shot to pay dividends to his team. However, to become an all-around offensive threat, especially off the rush, an improved shot is necessary.
In Oshawa, he had a limited role in offensive transitions and was used as a target man down ice, pulling defenders to create space for his linemates to enter the zone. That tendency resurfaced in Finland. Brett would be seen stationary at the opposing blue line waiting for his team to transition into the zone, which isn’t an effective way to assist in controlling play through the neutral zone. On occasion, he showed he could enter the zone with possession and move the puck to a teammate in a better position for a scoring chance. Still, it wasn’t a frequent occurrence as often he defaulted to attempting a low percentage pass through traffic that led to a transition the other direction. Additionally, he has a habit of turning his back to the puck carrier and taking routes that don’t put him in prime positioning to be a logical passing option on offensive transitions.
He would frequently receive breakout passes on the wall, and his first instinct is to look for a stretch pass to his winger counterpart. The passes were mainly on the mark, but when his passing options were closed down, he was caught flat-footed with the puck and would force the pass into lanes that were occupied by the opposition. If he can focus on receiving the outlet pass in motion or taking a few strides before thinking pass, he would be better positioned to carry the puck when space is given to him in the neutral zone.
In defensive transition sequences, Harrison was not effective. He was normally found stationary, waiting for the play to come to him, and would attempt a play on the puck from a standstill. To better suppress transitions, Brett will need to focus on containing and angling opposition to the boards, but to do so, he will need to be in motion.
Finally, when fulfilling the defensive responsibilities of a center, Brett did not have the foot speed to catch up to his linemates and get involved in the rush, further limiting his transition involvement. This is one of the main reasons why I came away thinking he likely projects as a winger long-term. Of course, the foot speed can always improve, but as-is, he seems best suited as a winger.
It would be inaccurate to describe Harrison as being a strong and efficient skater. He has a wider stance, is bent slightly forward, and has what is normally referred to as “heavy feet”. Once he gets to his top speed, he can keep up but lacks the acceleration to generate separation. Brett also struggles with lateral movements and maintaining his speed through turns, which results in him rarely being at his top speed. Harrison also doesn’t do himself any favors in the skating department, as he is routinely found stationary off the puck. The silver lining here is that when comparing his skating from a year ago to today, you can see that there has been a noteworthy progression. His stance is less forward flexed, and he is getting much closer to that desirable full extension through his knees and hips. Brett’s continued skating improvements will be mandatory for him to succeed as he advances to higher levels of hockey.
On skating, I’d like to add that you can make up for not having the quickest feet with strong positioning and decision-making. A quicker player is granted more leeway on their positional play as they can recover swiftly from the occasional misstep. Brett currently does not have that luxury. Overall his positional play was acceptable, but he will need to be more conscious of his location on the ice to avoid perpetually trailing the puck. In multiple instances, Brett was caught overcommitting on forechecks, which resulted in him being behind the play and unable to recover and support his team in defensive transitions. These small errors paired with slower feet resulted in many shifts where Brett was the last man back into his own zone after a questionable decision to apply pressure when the chance of retrieval was low.
Harrison is a player who you can never question his effort and engagement levels, which is especially true in the defensive zone. He’s always actively looking for a man to mark, a stick to tie up, or a passing lane to take away. He drops down low into the slot to help protect the dangerous area in front of his net. One small tweak I’d like to see him make in his own zone is containing the puck carrier at the point better. He tends to attack the man head-on and is easily beat by an agile skater with a head fake.
The main deficiency in his defensive game has been highlighted above. He is usually the last man back into his defensive zone or not involved in suppressing transitions. This is mainly because he sets up so far down low in the zone every shift and has much more ice to travel to get back on defense. He will need to be more aware of his positioning to put himself in better positions to defend but, considering how effective he is around the net, this is likely a trade-off his coaches and teams are willing to make. Overall, on both the wing and at center, Brett has shown that he can be a positive contributor defensively.
The selling point of Brett Harrison is obvious; he has a talent for scoring goals. On top of the goal-scoring, he adds forechecking presence that is a desirable component to a successful line. However, there are valid concerns with his skating and his play away from the puck, but from the small sample of his game in Finland, it appears that those two areas have progressed nicely. If he continues to improve on the key weaknesses in his game and is paired with play driving linemates, a complimentary middle-six winger with net front utility on the power play is definitely within reach for this 2021 draft-eligible prospect.
Jimmy Hayes, Right Wing, retired (Chicago, Florida, Boston, New Jersey)
Hayes was best known for his hands and his play around the net, which is exactly what you’re getting with Harrison. He was mainly deployed on the wing but did provide the flexibility to also fill in at center. Like Brett, Jimmy did not use his size to be a physical presence but used it to gain an advantage on defenders in the dirty areas. Neither are efficient skaters and have similar wide-stance skating styles, which is the final piece to making Jimmy Hayes a fitting comparison.
stats from InStat and EliteProspects
Prospect report written by Jordan Malette. If you would like to follow Jordan on Twitter, his handle is @jordanmalette.
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