When teams select players outside the first two round of the NHL Entry Draft, they are picking kids with the knowledge that they are going to be a long-term project. Prospects selected after the top-50 of the draft have a very small likelihood of ever becoming an NHL regular. Turning a late pick into a roster player takes a lot of hard work and a ton of luck.
A “project” is exactly what James Hardie of the Mississauga Steelheads is. He’s a prospect with a lot of raw talent that has the potential to turn into an NHLer if he puts in the right work and everything falls into place.
A former top-10 in the OHL Priority Selection Draft, Hardie is a natural goal scorer, despite not having the strongest shot. He needs to work on other facets of his game, but the potential is there for him to be a good middle-6 supplemental goal scorer in the NHL. There’s a lot of Tyler Toffoli in his game.
Hardie’s calling card is his scoring ability. He has a very quick release and high-level accuracy, giving him the potential to become one of the best goal scorers in junior hockey. He has the offensive instincts to know where to be resulting in an inordinate number of loose pucks finding his stick in prime scoring position. He’s not going to pass up a shot when given an opportunity in the offensive zone.
While he’s a high-volume shooter, Hardie doesn’t necessarily do it alone. He’s the perfect trigger man to plan on the wing of a high-end playmaking center.
While he’s a decent skater, it’s definitely an area Hardie needs to work on. Getting stronger on his skates will be key to becoming a good professional player. Part of that will come as he matures physically but putting in the work to become more balanced and a half step quicker would go a long way in his development. Becoming stronger all around will be key.
Like many offense-first players his age, he also needs to work on becoming more responsible away from the puck, particularly in the defensive end.
Hardie’s season long numbers are decent, but what makes them standout is the split between the first half and the second.
James Hardie Draft Year Splits
After struggling through the first 30 games of the season, Hardie caught fire in the second half. Part of it came from natural development, some of it came from getting more opportunity to play up in the lineup and some of it simply came from luck.
Hardie was moved to a line with Cole Schwindt and Nicolas Canade and it seemed to work really well. Schwindt was Mississauga’s best passer and he was able to create a lot of offensive chances for his linemates. Add that to an explosion in his shooting percentage and it’s easy to explain the huge boost in Hardie’s second half point total.
What Others are Saying
A volume shooter, Hardie certainly can sling it. Sometimes, I think his decision making is questionable, as more patience could pay off in certain situations (like spinning off the half wall and firing at a bad angle, rather than continuing to work the cycle or playing it back to a defender). But he does have a very heavy shot and it does generate rebounds that create scoring chances. Additionally, he looks good on the powerplay with that quick release. Unquestionably, he will be among the leading goal scorers in the OHL by the time his OHL career is over. The question is, does his skill set translate and does he do enough other things well to warrant a high ranking? I think his play without the puck has become more consistent in the last month or so as he’s fighting for space and battling in the corners more assertively. But I’d like to see him playing between the dots more, especially with his big shot. I also think that he’s going to need to improve his skating, given his average size (5’11) to improve his game. Goal scorers are valuable though and Hardie does have enough going for him to draw NHL interest in hopes that other parts of his game round into form. - Brock Otten at OHL Prospects
James Hardie of the Mississauga Steelheads is a super intriguing prospect. Hardie is a player that a few years down the road, could quite possibly look like a steal in the mid to later rounds of the draft. He is a very strong skater and a player that handles the puck quite well. He adds that “bite” component to his game as well, as he does not shy away from engaging in physical contact. With a continuation of honing in on this defensive zone coverage and his play away from the puck, we could be talking about a completely different player come next season. - McKeen’s Hockey
Hardie is going to score a lot of goals over the next couple of years in the OHL, what will be important is that he works on the other aspects of his game. When I asked an OHL scout if Hardie had a chance to be a regular NHLer, he responded with: “I think he could, if he puts in the work on his skating”.
That’s really all you can ask for from a mid-round pick.
Where he’ll be Drafted
Hardie is the kind of prospect that could be ranked drastically different from team to team - depending on when their scouts went to see him play. He’s likely to be drafted around the fourth or fifth round but there’s the potential that someone takes chance on him as early as the third.
One thing is for sure, Hardie has had a lot more to deal with than just hockey over the past couple of years. During his OHL draft year, Hardie’s mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. She was so dedicated to James’ hockey career that she was in the arena for a game just 24 hours after surgery. The diagnosis led to Hardie becoming one of the off-ice leaders for Mississauga’s Pink the Rink campaign.
If James has half the strength his mother does, he’s going to be well worth taking a chance on later in the draft.
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