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12-09-2012, 08:35 PM
The Czech Condor
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As for the actual thread title being "Who is the NEXT Willie Mitchell", I will go out on a limb and talk about Jay Harrison a bit. Harrison has really had an odd career to this point. He was drafted 1st overall into the OHL in 1998 at an already NHL sized 6-3 at 15 years old ahead of a pretty highly regarded Lou Dickenson among others. He immediately began playing in the OHL the next season. He was actually so highly regarded at the time that he made the WJC for Canada as a 19 year old defender and again as a 20 year old. CHL top prospect game. The whole deal for a player who had never posted more than modest stats at the OHL level. The offensive aspect of his game never materialized until his final season of Junior when he scored an improbable 43 points in 61 games, nearly matching his total Junior hockey career totals in one season.

The next year he turned professional for the Toronto Maple Leafs who had picked him in the 3rd Round in 2001. Billed as too soft to be a top four and not offensive enough to be a PMD, Harrison fell into disrepair as a prospect culminating in a year in St. Johns when he played 60 regular season games, didn't score a goal, and had only 4 points as a 3rd year professional.... a time when many young hockey players at that level see a break out in progress.

Then in 05-06, for some inexplicable reason, Harrison developed an offensive game at the minor pro level and scored 29 points in 57 games for the Marlies and Paul Maurice. This production was rewarded with a brief showing with the Leafs, who were much as they are now stacked with borderline NHL talent in the depth department. Harrison battled through the next two years, his 5th and 6th at the AHL level with only one more call up of five games to the Leafs during that entire stretch.

At 24-25 years old, Harrison was left with few options. He didn't want to toil away in the AHL for the remainder of his career and despite being on the cusp of a spot as an NHL regular, depending upon who you asked, he took his game to the NLA during contract negotiations with Toronto. Despite that, the relationship stayed somewhat amicable. He was, after all, a pretty easy guy to cheer for and had endeared himself to many Toronto fans and even Don Cherry. At the end of his NLA season, which was considered a personal success for him, he signed with the Leafs to finish the NHL season and played a handful of games with Toronto.

By this point, Paul Maurice had migrated back to Carolina with fond memories for his 05-06 Marlies team and later teams. At a point in his Carolina stint he had brought Justin Pogge, Jiri Tlusty, and Jay Harrison back into the fold. After an injury plagued first season with Carolina, in which he played a career high 38 games in the NHL, he decided to stick with the club again and became a regular NHL player at 27 years old.

Last season in the NHL was by far Harrison's best. He scored 9 goals and had 23 points in 72 games and was perhaps Carolina's most consistent defender all season. He turned his 180 NHL games with Carolina into a 3 year deal worth $1.5 million per season.

I think that when hockey starts back, Jay Harrison is going to be again taking steps to finally being the Top 4 he was projected as being so many years ago.

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