EVERETT — Shane Harper is the epitome of persistence in the Western Hockey League.
Now that persistence has been rewarded.
The Everett Silvertips winger cashed in on his steady improvement over the course of his WHL career, signing a three-year entry-level contract with the National Hockey League’s Philadelphia Flyers, the Tips announced Thursday.
“It feels incredible,” Harper said via cell phone from Kamloops, B.C. “It hasn’t really sunk in quite yet. I’m just so happy now.”
Harper became the third undrafted Everett player in nine months to sign an NHL contract. Right wing Kellan Tochkin signed with the Vancouver Canucks last July and goaltender Thomas Heemskerk signed with the San Jose Sharks last September.
Harper, a native of Valencia, Calif., who turned 21 in February, was virtually ignored by the NHL before this season. He was passed over in the past three NHL drafts and he never received an invitation to attend an NHL training camp on a tryout.
But the past two seasons forced the NHL to take notice. Last season Harper was named Everett’s co-Most Valuable Player and this season he became the franchise’s all-time top goal scorer, setting franchise records for goals in a season (39) and a career (97). He has six games remaining in the 2009-2010 campaign to pad those records.
In total, Harper has 208 points in 329 games over five seasons with the Tips, and he’s appeared in 208 consecutive games.
“There were definitely times when I wondered if (signing a contract) was going to happen,” Harper said. “I didn’t even sign with an agent until last season. But I was going to play as hard as I can and I was never going to quit. It’s nice that in my last year it finally happened, and it’s nice to know that I’ve got somewhere to go next season.”
Harper’s story highlights the role the WHL plays as a developmental league.
When Harper first arrived in Everett as a 16-year-old in 2005, he was accompanied by little fanfare, having gone unselected in the bantam draft. Then for two seasons he was used primarily on Everett’s fourth line, totalling just 25 points in those two seasons combined.
But Harper gradually worked his way up Everett’s depth chart. In his 18-year-old season, he became an offensive factor with 43 points in 71 games. As a 19-year-old, he scored a team-leading 32 goals to share team MVP honors with defenseman Taylor Ellington and this season, he’s become a dominant offensive force. His 39 goals ranks seventh in the league, and in the recent Best of the West poll he was voted the Western Conference’s best overage player and most underrated player.
“We couldn’t be more proud of Shane,” Tips general manager Doug Soetaert said in a press release. “This contract is the result of a great deal of hard work and buying into our system. Shane is someone who was never invited to an NHL training camp, yet continued to persevere and earned this contract by showing a firm commitment and dedication to improving his game.”
Harper said Philadelphia was one of five NHL teams that expressed interest, but Harper and his agent believed Philadelphia was the right destination.
“When we looked at it, we liked the depth and the way the team would fit for me,” Harper explained. “It looked like they needed a forward and I didn’t want to go to a team that had too many forwards. Philly looked like a good fit and I’m really happy with the decision we made.”
Reports out of Philadelphia said Harper received a $180,000 signing bonus. Harper is expected to play next season in Philadelphia’s minor-league system.
This week’s earlier results saw the four-way race in the U.S. Division begin to sort itself out. On Tuesday, Everett won 5-2 at Kamloops and Tri-City won 5-1 at Portland. Then on Wednesday Spokane lost 3-2 in a shootout at Kelowna. That means first-place Tri-City goes into the weekend four points ahead of second-place Everett, with third-place Spokane another four points back and fourth-place Portland a further two points adrift. Each team has six games remaining except for Portland, which just has five.
Nick Patterson’s Silvertips blog: http://www.heraldnet.com/silvertipsblog