Harris makes impressive, speedy debut in Canadiens win over Lightning

Nick Suzuki scored the deciding goal in the shootout to help the Montreal Canadiens take down the Tampa Bay Lightning 5-4.

Jordan Harris’ feet can take him anywhere he wants to go, and his brain takes him most often to the right places.

That was made clear on nearly every one of the 17 shifts he took in his NHL debut against the Tampa Bay Lightning Saturday. We got a clear glimpse of it through his first 45 seconds of action—a sequence that ended with a quality scoring chance that forced Brian Elliott to give up a rebound the Montreal Canadiens nearly cashed on—and several more of them through his 15:55 of ice-time.

“Watching him, you’d never think it was his first game,” Canadiens teammate Joel Edmundson said to reporters on site afterwards. “I thought he was really good.”

The 21-year-old, who’s one credit shy of a degree at Northeastern University, showed it in taking his very first strides in the world’s best league against three of the world’s very best players. He relied on the speed of them—and his active stick—to disrupt the flow of Nikita Kucherov, Brayden Point and Steven Stamkos, and it was impressive.

But even if Harris dropped some jaws, and some coverage, with his foot speed, it’s his processing speed that stood out even more in this game. And if his speed of execution on that first shift was indicative of the level of play he’s already prepared to consistently offer, he’ll realize the large potential he has a lot sooner than expected.

Processing speed: Realizing the puck is being turned over with all three Tampa forwards deep in Montreal’s end, Harris immediately jumps into the rush.

Speed of execution: Closing the gap with his feet, Harris gets into position to one-time the drop pass and take the shot that handcuffs Elliott on the same sequence.

There were many examples of Harris processing, executing and popping up exactly where you’d want him to be in all three zones in this game. He did it with some flair, too, with an ankle-busting pivot in his own zone that sent Tampa’s Pierre-Marc Bellemare tumbling in the first period.

Harris wasn’t perfect—a second-period penalty for forgetting it’s an NHL rule that you need to return to the bench immediately if you lose your helmet was an example. He also said after the game that he would have liked to have killed some plays faster and was eager to watch some video to pick out other things he might improve—and he was as sheltered as one possibly can be when playing against the back-to-back Stanley Cup champion Lightning.

But for a guy who said he was naturally nervous ahead of his first game in the show, Harris wasn’t wasting any of his energy. He played efficiently, moving himself and the puck with relative ease and fluidity.

“Loved his game,” said Canadiens coach Martin St. Louis. “His skating, you can see, is so effortless. I thought he was engaged, and he gave us some really good minutes.”

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The Haverhill, Mass., native’s appearance in the Canadiens’ lineup also highlighted just how drastic a makeover the team’s blue line has undergone since losing Game 5 of the 2021 Cup Final at Amalie Arena. The grizzlies are almost all gone—6-foot-4, 230-pound Shea Weber was too injured to continue his playing career, 6-foot-3, 234-pound Ben Chiarot was traded ahead of the Mar. 21 deadline, 6-foot-3, 209-pound Jeff Petry is hurt and is expected to be traded in the off-season, while 6-foot-5, 224-pound Edmundson remains—and the cheetahs are now running.

On this night, the undrafted, unheralded and smooth-skating Corey Schueneman lined up next to fleet-of-foot Alex Romanov on Montreal’s top pair and scored the team’s second goal in the 5-4 shootout win. And while Justin Barron (who came over in the trade that sent Artturi Lehkonen to the Colorado Avalanche two weeks ago) may still be in the process of finding his NHL legs just four games into his career, we know skating is his greatest strength.

David Savard isn’t exactly a burner, nor is he a bear. But there’s versatility in his game, which makes him a good fit with Harris from here to the end of this season—and possibly beyond.

The kid’s name isn’t going to be frequently featured on the scoreboard. Not now, and possibly not ever. Canadiens GM Kent Hughes, who coached Harris in minor hockey and watched him progress with the NCAA Huskies for four years—some of them spent alongside his sons and St. Louis’ eldest, Ryan—told us he doesn’t expect him to register too many goals or regularly quarterback the power play.

But Hughes said Harris will defend well, play bigger than his 5-foot-11, 185-pound frame should allow, kill plays with his speed and his stick, more often than not make the right first pass and be able to skate the puck out as efficiently as he moves it. In other words, this player, whom Hughes suggested could quickly become a reliable top-four defenceman, will make the plays that keep the puck out of his own net and give his teammates a chance to put it in the other one.

Harris showed all that on Saturday. His speed, in every sense of the word, was on full display.

It stood out in a game in which many Canadiens showed their best to erase 2-0 and 3-1 deficits and finish off what most would consider to currently be the NHL’s toughest road trip, through Florida, Carolina and Tampa—from Cole Caufield scoring his 14th goal since St. Louis took over the bench on Feb. 9 to Jesse Ylonen tying the game 4-4 in the third minute of the third period and to Jake Allen stopping Point, Kuckerov and Stamkos before Nick Suzuki secured Montreal’s first regular-season win at Amalie since 2017 with a beautiful forehand-backhand deke.

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