With one week left in the WHL preseason, two players are tied for the league scoring lead, one a 20-year-old veteran, the other a 16-year-old rookie.
The new guy on the scene, Prince George Cougars centre Jansen Harkins, lacks the three years of major junior game experience Manraj Hayer has but he's right on par with the Everett Silvertips centre in the scoring department, each with nine points.
The good thing about Harkins, from the Cougars' perspective, is the native of North Vancouver is likely going to be around WHL rinks for a long time coming and over the weekend he showed the Edmonton Oil Kings the problems that will likely pose. Harkins assisted on three of the five goals Friday and set up one more Saturday in a 2-1 win which gave the Cougars a preseason sweep of the Oil Kings at CN Centre.
"Hammy [Oil Kings assistant coach Steve Hamilton] coached Harkins on Team Pacific and he's going to be a special player in this league," said Oil Kings head coach Derek Laxdal. "He's 16 but he's making plays a 19-year-old makes.
"P.G. is an up-and-coming team and they've been going in that direction the last two or three years. Mark [head coach Holick] has them working hard and now they're starting to see fruits of that."
All the scoring Saturday happened in the third period. After going 3-for-11 in Friday's 5-1 victory, the Cougars' power play was the difference-maker again, converting two of eight chances.
With Lane Bauer off for slashing, Harkins took the puck out from behind the net and got a weak shot away that Tyler Santos stopped but the Edmonton goalie failed to corral the rebound and Chase Witala hammered it into the net at the 2:27 mark.
David Soltes notched the gamewinner at 6:48 of the third, jamming home a rebound of Tate Olson's shot from the blueline, not long after Aaron Irving was sent to the box for charging. Edmonton had tied the game a few minutes earlier, a point shot from defenceman Stephen Shmoorkoff that deflected high into the net.
"We got some confidence last weekend in St. Albert and we were able to keep it rolling this weekend," said Harkins, who has one goal and eight assists in four preseason games. "I was just fortunate enough to play with some good players again this weekend, with [Brad] Morrison, [Brett] Roulston and obviously [Chase] Witala, who scored today. I'm not looking to go out and score points right now, I'm just trying to make the team and get the wins for the team."
Based on what he showed on the ice on the weekend, it's a safe bet Harkins has already locked up a spot with the Cougars this season.
The Cougars fired 22 shots at Santos in the second period alone and the 19-year-old from Sherwood Park, Alta., a former list player of the Cougars, barely flinched. His pad save in the opening minute of the middle frame robbed Soltes, set up beautifully on a pass through the crease by Alex Forsberg.
The Cougars had the Oil Kings under siege but failed to convert on a pair of two-man advantages and Santos loomed large in those situations. For one of his 43 saves he closed the back door on Roulston's backhander and was just as unreceptive to Jordan Tkatch's attempt to open the scoring on a breakaway while shorthanded late in the second. The Oil Kings went 0-for-11 on the power play.
"I thought our penalty-kill got better and better as the weekend went on," said Holick. "I liked the effort.
"It's hard to judge because they've got seven or eight guys in pro camps and we've got five guys gone but we feel our younger guys were some of our better players."
The Cats are now a perfect 4-0 in the preseason. Ty Edmonds drew the start in the Cougars nets and worked up a sweat early on as the Cats got themselves into penalty trouble. Of the 12 shots the 17-year-old rookie from Winnipeg faced in the opening frame, at least half were quality chances. The best early chance for the Cougars came with Soltes in as the lone wolf on another shorthanded breakaway blocked by Santos. The Cats took control of the game in the second period, outshooting the visitors 22-10, but Edmonds could not afford to relax with the final outcome still in doubt until the dying seconds.