Cougars GM gets chance to see son in action with Jets

Todd Harkins has worn a number of hats lately.

On Friday and Saturday, he was in his regular role as the general manager for the Prince George Cougars as he watched the team compete in a series of Western Hockey League preseason games in Kennewick, Wa.

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He then drove north to Kelowna to check out the future talent in a midget hockey showcase.

But the hat he wore on Sunday and Monday was as proud dad when he watched his 18-year-old son Jansen suit up for the Winnipeg Jets in the Young Stars Prospects tournament in Penticton.

Jansen, a six-foot-one 187-pound centre, was selected by the Jets in the second round (47th overall) of the 2015 NHL draft in June after a stellar season with the Cougars when he led the team in scoring with 79 points.

"Seeing him on Sunday (against Vancouver) brought a tear to my eye," said dad Todd Monday afternoon, shortly after Jansen and the Jets edged the Edmonton Oilers prospects 5-4 in overtime. "I was pretty choked up emotionally when I saw his first shift. It just happened so fast from when he played bantam triple-A to now. I can't believe how fast time flies. When I first saw him, I was nervous - I couldn't believe that he could play at this level. But now I know he'll be fine."

The Canucks prospects defeated the Jets 4-1 Sunday. Among the Canucks in the tournament is Cougars defenceman Tate Olson, whom Vancouver selected in the seventh round of the 2015 draft.

"Jansen played against Tate and they both didn't look out of place," said Todd. "I'm proud of both of them and it's great to see them playing at this level."

Olson and Harkins are among seven Cougars at NHL camps. The others include forwards Brad Morrison (fourth round, New York Rangers) and Jesse Gabrielle (fourth round, Boston Bruins). Forward Chase Witala got a post-draft invitation to Dallas Stars camp and forward Jared Bethune was asked to attend the camp of the Minnesota Wild. Cougars defenceman Sam Ruopp was a fifth-round selection of the Columbus Blue Jackets.

That means the Cougars have carried 33 players (19 forwards, 10 defencemen and four goalies) during the preseason. The team has until Oct. 10 to trim the roster to 25 players.

"It's kind of an unknown for us having so many guys away," said the general manager. "It's also a great experience for them (the guys still on the team) to be seen and to work with our development coaches and get used to the WHL. There will be some tough decisions to make. The guys knew it was going to be a competitive camp. The young players trying to make the step from midget to junior have been competitive all along and we've been able to assess each player in key situations and the team as a whole. If we can make the competition healthy, we'll hit the road running at the start of the season."

Among the key decisions Harkins and his coaching staff will have to make is which 20-year-old doesn't make the lineup. The Cats have four of them right now - goaltender Mac Shields, left-wingers Witala and Aaron Macklin and defenceman Joe Carvalho - and can only carry three.

The Cougars returned home Sunday from Kennewick after they rallied from a two-goal deficit late in the game to defeat the Kootenay Ice 3-2 in overtime Saturday.

Seventeen-year-old Bartek Bison, a six-foot-three 187-pound left-winger from Amsterdam who was selected by the Cougars in the CHL's import draft in June, had two goals and an assist in the game, including the winner.

The Cats are now preparing to host the Kamloops Blazers in another preseason match-up on Saturday at CN Centre.

The game is being sandwiched by the Vancouver Canucks training camp that's set to begin Friday.

"It'll be a great experience for everyone to see all the NHL guys," said Harkins. "We're such a hockey community and it's a great way to get everybody excited for the season, and the Spruce Kings as well."

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