QA with Aaron Harstad
Green Bay Gamblers defenseman Aaron Harstad has a lot of tools NHL teams like to see. He's a smooth skater who's fleet of foot and has good all-compass mobility. He has a hard shot from the point. He has a frame to work with at 6-foot-2 and will fill out a lot from his current 181 pounds. He was dominant in the Wisconsin high school ranks (averaged nearly a goal and an assist every game and was First Team All-State). He's played for Team USA, in Harstad's case with Team USA U-17 Select Team at the Four Nations Tournament in August of 2008. Thus, despite not cracking Green Bay's top five when the Gamblers have full health on their deep blueline, Harstad still factors into the equation for the 2010 NHL Entry Draft. He will then to follow in the footsteps of Nick Jensen, who successfully translated fourth-and fifth-defenseman icetime with Green Bay in 2008-09 into selected by the Detroit Red Wings in the fifth round of the 2009 Draft.
McKeen's correspondent Kevin Wey had the opportunity to talk with Aaron Harstad after a late January game. Harstad discussed his prospects for the 2010 Draft, his time in the USHL, his standout high school career in Wisconsin, his international play with Team USA, his commitment to Colorado College, his youth hockey spanning the upper Midwest, and which NHLer he follows the most (an offensive defenseman that's mmm, mmm good."
McKeen's: Well, to start on a positive, NHL Central Scouting has you ranked 86th overall amongst North American skaters for the 2010 Draft. What's your reaction to that?
Harstad: It's obviously a good feeling to be ranked, in the top 100 at that. But, I've got to keep working hard, get going, and try to get to the top 50, maybe.
McKeen's: How do you feel 2009-10's gone for you, so far? Better than expected, as expected, or maybe not as well as you expected?
Harstad: Umm, I think it's gone good. Obviously, our team's doing great. So, that's pretty much all that counts, huh? I keep getting better as a player and take it in stride, pretty much.
McKeen's: You played 10 games with the team at the end of last season after high school. What were the biggest adjustments you faced last season making that immediate jump from Stevens Point Area High School?
Harstad: Probably just getting used to the speed. The level is a lot higher than high school hockey in Wisconsin. But pretty much, speed is the main thing. Speed and strength.
McKeen's: What areas of your game do you feel have improved in the most in your time with Green Bay, both last season and this season?
Harstad: I've definitely gotten a lot stronger since last year, a lot smoother and a lot faster. But, just pretty much adjusting and getting used to the speed.
McKeen's: What areas of your game do you feel you need to improve upon to take your game to the next level?
Harstad: I'd probably say work on my defense a little more, get better in the d-zone.
McKeen's: For those who haven't seen you play, what would you say are the strengths of your game and the style that you play?
Harstad: I think I'm a good skater, a really good skater. I've got good vision, a pretty good shot for my size, hopefully it keeps getting better as I get bigger and stronger.
McKeen's: You guys as a team have a very mobile defense corps, that's for sure. In Wisconsin high school last year, I think you had about 23 goals and 21 assists or so in 24 games, which is pretty good, and you were First Team All-State. So, what were the keys to your offensive output in Wisconsin high school last year?
Harstad: Skated a lot. Skated it a lot. Skate, skate, skate. I got a lot of shots on net.
McKeen's: So, were a lot of those goals skating the puck?
Harstad: A lot of them were shots from the blueline, actually.
McKeen's: Shots from blueline?
Harstad: Most of them, yeah. I've got a pretty good shot from the blueline.
McKeen's: That's true. You also played for Team Wisconsin in the Upper Midwest High School Elite League. How many years did you play in that and how did it compare to Wisconsin high school?
Harstad: Oh, it's before and after the high school season. I only played before, before last year's season. It's a little faster. High school is obviously a step down from it, but it wasn't bad. I only played that and then after the season I played in Green Bay. So, I only played there for half of their season.
McKeen's: That's right. Team Wisconsin does have their team in the Elite League and then they do play after the season. Who were some of the best players that you played with on Team Wisconsin and then some of the best players you played against, both in the Elite League and also Wisconsin high school?
Harstad: The best players on my team were probably Matt Paape and Cody Strang. Paape plays in Sioux City and Strang plays in Youngstown. They're both from Wisconsin. Who I played against? Probably Derek Forbort, some of the Minnesota guys, Justin Faulk, those guys.
McKeen's: Definitely some good players. Also prior to 2008-09, you were on Team USA's Select 17 Team, for the Four Nations Tournament. When did you learn you'd been named to that, who told you, and what was your reaction?
Harstad: Eric Rud called me actually, after the camp. I think it was a week or two after. He called my dad and left a message. I think it was in August. No, it was probably late June, early July. I was excited. I was really excited. It was probably the most excited I've been in awhile. You know? It's great to play for your country.
McKeen's: What were your impressions of the international play at the Four Nations Tournament and how did you feel you did there?
Harstad: I felt like I did pretty good. The town that we stayed in (pauses), it was pretty weird getting used to it, because it's a different country and a lot of different food. But, it was good. I liked it a lot.
McKeen's: You've been committed to Colorado College since November of 2008, which is after the Elite League ended. At what point did colleges start recruiting you and, if I might ask, what other schools were in the running and what made you decide on CC in the end?
Harstad: They probably started recruited me (pauses), I was trying out for Green Bay two years ago, the season before my last high school season. Coach [Scott] Owens, after the camp, sent me a hand-written letter. That was the first one. After the USA thing in Slovakia, Wisconsin talked to me, and St. Cloud, and a couple other colleges, but it pretty much started after that.
McKeen's: Sounds like coach Owens got in on you early. It seemed like the publicity came after the Select Festival, but he was there before that. Was it that early contact that made the difference? What made you decide on Colorado College?
Harstad: I just loved it out there. They treated me very well. It's a great town, a great city.
McKeen's: I think your skating will go well on that Olympic ice sheet.
Harstad: Yeah, it'll definitely help.
McKeen's: I've seen you're slated to begin playing for CC in 2011. Is that still the plan?
Harstad: Yeah, that's still the plan, one more year in Green Bay and then off to Colorado College.
McKeen's: Going back to the beginning, when did you first start playing hockey and how did you get that start?
Harstad: It all started in Minnesota. I was born in Fargo and moved to Moorhead, Minnesota. Both of my brothers played hockey, so I started young, and my dad's a big hockey fanatic. So, very young.
McKeen's: At what age did you move?
Harstad: I was born in Fargo and then we moved to Moorhead when I was about eight or nine. It all started in Fargo and Moorhead, pretty much, playing on outdoor rinks with my dad and brothers.
McKeen's: Fargo and Moorhead are pretty much across from each other.
Harstad: Yep, pretty much right across.
McKeen's: Back in the days there was a USHL team there. You might remember the old USHL team, the Fargo-Moorhead…
McKeen's: Yeah, Ice Sharks.
Harstad: Yep, I remember them. I remember going to those games.
McKeen's: What were the different organizations that you skated for at the different age levels coming up through the ranks?
Harstad: First was rookies in Moorhead. Then, I played my second year of squirts in Stevens Point, we moved after my first year. Then, from there on we played there, Stevens Point High School, the (arena noise made it difficult to hear) and then Green Bay.
McKeen's: What was the team you said before Green Bay?
Harstad: Oh, the Ice Hawks, Stevens Point. The youth program is the Ice Hawks.
McKeen's: Did you ever play with the Junior Gamblers at all?
Harstad: Oh, yeah. I played with them for two years.
McKeen's: I didn't think their website would lie. What years did you play for them?
Harstad: Umm, I played my freshman year of high school and my eighth grade year.
McKeen's: As we've touched upon, it's your draft year. Do you ever think about the draft and if so, what are those thoughts?
Harstad: Obviously, it's always on your mind that it's your draft year. But, I'm just hoping I get drafted. Hopefully I can improve my draft stock.
McKeen's: Players with legitimate chances at selection often have representation, which on the collegiate track is a family advisor. Do you have representation and if so, if I might ask, whom?
Harstad: I have a family advisor, his name is Dan Plante. He's from Minnesota.
McKeen's: I talked to someone recently who had Dan Plante as well, but now I'm forgetting. (Brock Montpetit)
Harstad: He's also Joe Pavelski's agent.
McKeen's: Well, there you go. He's got Stevens Point covered.
Harstad: Yep, yeah.
McKeen's: Central Scouting is only one service, and there are 30 teams, so there's probably a pretty diverse opinion on you across the board. So, what would you say to scouts who aren't as high on you as Central Scouting, who maybe consider you as a later-round pick or maybe only a potential pick?
Harstad: I think I just keep improving and keep getting better. If they keep watching, they've gotta watch more games. If they keep watching, they'll see I'm a good skater, I've got a good shot, and I've got a lot of upside.
McKeen's: That basically answered what would have been my next question, too (why a team should consider drafting Harstad), so we'll round it out with who were some of your favorite players growing up and why and then maybe some players today who you feel you're similar to or would like to equate to?
Harstad: Hmm, when I was younger, I started liking [Brian] Campbell, because he's good with the puck and he's a really good skater.
McKeen's: Anyone besides Campbell?
Harstad: Nope, that's pretty much the only guy.