While scouts spend all season watching players, a lot of talent hawks have been making trips to Mississauga lately to check in on OHL Steelheads left winger James Hardie. Though he wasn't really on the radar before the season began, the sniper has made himself known in the second half. Of his 34 goals, 21 have come since Christmas and that has vaulted him in the rankings during that ever-important draft year.
"It's something you look forward to your whole life," Hardie said. "My start wasn't the best, but I've picked it up as of late and I have to keep pushing."
Hardie has the skating ability, skill and enough size to catch attention while playing on Mississauga's top line. Scouts would like to see more compete and more diligence away from the puck out of the winger, but they are intrigued. And the kid himself recognizes he's not close to being a finished product yet.
"I need to work on my defensive end and making sure I get the puck out on the walls," Hardie said. "Plus my skating all around so I can get faster and beat guys wide and not just rely on my shot. I make sure in practice that I pay attention to details."
Growing up in Ontario as a Washington Capitals fan, Hardie loved to watch Alex Ovechkin's passion for the game and he also tries to model his style after Vancouver Canucks winger Tyler Toffoli. Right now, Hardie is looking like a top-100 prospect for the draft but anything could happen this year, especially if the world under-18s get cancelled. Of course, Hardie would like to be too busy chasing a long OHL playoff run to be eligible for Team Canada anyway. The Steelheads didn't make any major moves at the deadline this year and while they won't have home-ice advantage in the first round, Hardie is excited for the team's potential to upset.
"We've come together tightly as a group, even more after the trade deadline," he said. "Not making any moves shows the coach has trust in us. For us to keep pushing as a team, I think we can surprise some teams down the stretch run."
And the better that Hardie plays on that top line, the better it will be for his team and his draft stock. Those are two pretty good motivators right there.
Here are 10 other 2020 draft prospects making noise right now:
Blake Biondi, C, Hermantown Hawks (Minn. HS): His Hawks lost an overtime crusher in the state tournament final, but Biondi was key in getting them there in the first place. The University of Minnesota-Duluth commit was also named Mr. Hockey, the award for the state's top high school senior.
Lucas Mercuri, C, Salisbury Crimson Knights (Conn. HS): A big kid who can rip the puck, Mercuri provided crucial offense in Salisbury's 4-0 championship win over Dexter in the New England prep school ranks. Mercuri is a University of Vermont commit.
Jack Quinn, LW, Ottawa 67's (OHL): He just hit 50 goals and his 67's are poised to make a very long post-season run. Plus, he's smart and plays a 200-foot game. This kid is a sure-fire first-rounder, probably even top-15.
Mitch Miller, D, Tri-City Storm (USHL): A multiple Defenseman of the Week winner in the USHL, Miller is a University of North Dakota commit with great vision and mobility. He's got 33 points in 44 games for the Storm.
Kaiden Guhle, D, Prince Albert Raiders (WHL): Who will be the first 'Dub' player off the board? Guhle has a slight edge on Brandon's Braden Schneider and the Raider's excellent skating works in his favor. Can throw some nice hits, too.
Connor Zary, C, Kamloops Blazers (WHL): Another WHL first-rounder in waiting, Zary was the league's player of the week with nine points in four games. He's centering a massive first line in Kamloops.
William Dufour, RW, Drummondville Voltigeurs (QMJHL): A big kid who knows how to finish, Dufour has taken off since a trade from Chicoutimi. The right winger just had a 14-game point streak snapped, in which he had three games with four points or more.
Zach Uens, D, Merrimack Warriors (Hockey East): His freshman season is done and it was an impressive one. Uens is a smart, rushing defenseman who was passed over out of the Ontario Jr. A League but has scouts singing his praises now after netting 18 points in 34 games for the NCAA's Warriors.
Joel Blomqvist, G, Karpat Oulu (Fin.): The top goalie in Finland's junior league, the technically sound Blomqvist had a .931 save percentage in the regular season on a dominant Karpat squad, while also making his Liiga debut.
Egor Sokolov, LW, Cape Breton Eagles (QMJHL): The power forward leads the 'Q' in goals with 46 and with six games remaining, he's got a shot at 100 points (currently sitting at 92). The Russian world junior hero has been passed over before, but that won't happen again.
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