When Sidney Crosby puts his seal of approval on a player, any general manager would be wise to listen. Chicago Wolves GM Wendell Young did just that after Crosby offered praise for then-free agent Shane Harper.
Harper was already on the Wolves radar when Young bumped into Crosby at an event last summer. Young knew Harper skated at times in the summer with Crosby and some other pros during offseason workouts at the Los Angeles Kings' practice facility in El Segunda, Calif. Young decided to ask Crosby about him.
"He goes, 'That Harper kid, I preach that kid. He’s such a skilled kid -- he does things that I can’t do,'" Young said, relating the conversation. "That put it over the top."
The Wolves signed Harper to an AHL deal in early September, just a short time ahead of training camp. He was one of the last players signed by the team, and it took him some time before he settled in with his new squad. After being a healthy scratch in four of the Wolves first five games, Harper will play in his eighth consecutive game tonight when Chicago plays at the Charlotte Checkers.
"Coming into the year we had so many guys," Harper said. "I was patient and I had a good attitude. Then I just knew if I get my shot, try to do something with it. Which I guess I kind of have, luckily. I just tried to run with it."
Run with it he has. In the five games prior to Thursday's 2-1 victory over the Checkers, Harper recorded three goals and seven points, and was plus-5. His three-point game (two goals, one assist) against Oklahoma City on Nov. 1 was a career high for the fourth-year pro.
Harper now stands second on the Wolves in scoring with seven points. That's only three points fewer than he gathered in 48 games with Adirondack last season.
The key has been moving Harper from the third and fourth lines up to a more offensive role as a top-six forward. His breakout game against the Barons came while partnered with current linemates Ty Rattie and Keith Aucoin.
"He got in when he got his chance, and he put the points up," Young said. "That’s the thing about him, he’s creative with the puck. He’s been put into a skilled spot and he’s responded."
Harper joined the Wolves after his three-year entry level deal with the Philadelphia Flyers expired in the summer without him ever making it to the NHL. The Flyers had actually traded him to the New York Islanders, but the Islanders made little attempt to sign him, forcing Harper into free agency.
Faced with few options, he signed with the Orlando Solar Bears of the ECHL before Young swooped in with an AHL deal. The Solar Bears retain Harper's ECHL rights should things not work out in Chicago. But early indications are Harper will be around for a while.
"I was expecting to have to work my way up from the East Coast league, which isn’t obviously the first option," Harper said. "But I was prepared to do that. And then when I got the call from Chicago I was really excited. I think I signed the next day."
But that deal might not have been made if not for the conversation between Young and Crosby.
"Sid was nice enough to give me a good review," Harper said as a smile broke across his face. "Next time I saw him I said, “Hey, Sid, I owe ya.”