The Erie Otters left wing has enough on his plate in his NHL draft season. However, as the Otters' previous first-round pick, the 17-year-old felt was incumbent upon him to take highly touted 15-year-old centre Connor McDavid under his wing with the Ontario Hockey League club. The two share a billet house.
"Just for me, I wanted to welcome him into the league," says Harper, a potential top-60 pick in next summer's draft. "As a 15-year-old, I don't think I could have done the same thing. Connor's done a great job so far. It's huge for my leadership. As a 17-year-old, you don't always get the option to wear the [alternate captain's] 'A.' It's been good so far.
"He was a little quiet at the start and I had to break him in a bit," Harper says of McDavid.
The Otters' lack of veteran depth last season not only led to them winning the so-called McDavid Derby. It also opened up major minutes for Harper. Blessed with a cannon shot, he led all OHL 16-year-olds with 24 goals and was fifth with 35 points. He has a prototype power-winger frame at 6-foot-1 and 195 pounds, which should make him a safe pick next summer.
With Harper, though, it keeps coming back to how he's looking out for McDavid.
"He's taking the body and he's showing what he can do physically as well as putting the puck in the net," Otters coach Robbie Ftorek says. "And there is a lot of responsibility taking care of Connor. He came to Sid [Erie assistant coach Peter Sidorkiewicz] and I, along with [managing partner] Sherry [Bassin], and asked if he could do that. And we thought he was a great choice for Connor to follow around because he went through all the same things as a first-rounder."
Harper has five points (2G-3A) in as many games for the improving Otters, where he and overage J.P. Labardo have seen time on the first line with McDavid and Toronto Maple Leafs-drafted right wing Connor Brown. Harper, who is coming off having one of the strongest weeks among the OHL draft-eligible players, has even manned the point on the power play.
"I could definitely have more points and have created more opportunities, but overall it's been good. I'm not so happy with some of the minuses I have," he says, referring to his early-season -3 plus/minus rating.
1. No one is a complete player at 17, but what are some key components of the game that you are really stressing this season?
"Definitely the defensive zone and my skating. Scouts see that I'm a big guy who can skate, they'll like that for sure."
2. You have to believe you are playing your own game, but whom in the NHL do you watch because he's a similar mold of player?
"I like to say [Winnipeg Jets forward] Evander Kane, but I think I'm more of a basher than he is. Or Chris Stewart [of the St. Louis Blues]. Those too."
3. How did the experience of trying out for Canada's summer under-18 team help you for this season?
"Going to camp was huge for me, getting to see what I was up against by going against some of the top guys from throughout Canada. I got cut from that, but I look at the positives. It kind of put some fire in my belly."
4. What are you proudest of out of everything you have achieved so far in this sport?
"I am just proud I am working hard every shift. My goal is consistency and I hope the scouts will see that."
5. Eating clean is supposed to be part of being a pro, but what's your guilty pleasure food?
"I think at the house, it's probably ice cream sandwiches. Me and Connor like to snack on those."
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet .