On Saturday night, just as the Milwaukee Admirals’ contest against Rockford was to get underway, Nashville traded forward Miikka Salomaki to the Toronto Maple Leafs for defender Ben Harpur.
It’s the first of what could be a few moves between now and tomorrow’s trade deadline but ultimately not one that will affect Nashville much. Salomaki has been in Milwaukee, full-time, since November 19, and the end of his Predators career seemed inevitable as he was to enter free agency this summer.
Harpur comes to Milwaukee to fill the lineup spot vacated by Jarred Tinordi’s promotion to Nashville. The former Toronto Marlie, however, is in no way an upgrade; it’s debatable whether he’s even a better option than Josh Healey or Arvin Atwal.
By The Numbers
A fourth-round pick of the Ottawa Senators in 2013, Harpur turned his NHL selection into two more unspectacular seasons in the OHL. After 19 points in 81 games during his first two seasons in Guelph, Harpur registered just 47 more points in 124 games with the Storm and the Barrie Colts.
After two and a half seasons split between Ottawa, Binghamton and Evansville [ECHL], Harpur somehow earned a two-year, one-way extension from the Senators in February 2018. His longest stay in the NHL came in 2018-19 with 51 games for the Senators (totaling five points), but his disastrous impact on both sides of the ice at the NHL level culminated in a trade to Toronto last summer.
Per my colleague Hardev of Pension Plan Puppets, Harpur began the season on the Marlies’ second pair but gradually dropped down the depth chart and out of the lineup, eventually returning due to injuries and recalls.
Harpur has skated in just 33 games for the Marlies this season, recording one goal and 11 points.
The Scouting Tape
Much like an earlier acquisition by the Admirals this season, Harpur’s scouting report is riddled with qualifiers. One of them—commonly seen in some defenders (i.e. Jarred Tinordi) drafted post-lockout—is this his skills are good, if not impressive, for a big man. At 6’6”, Harpur has settled nicely into the no-man’s-land between orthodox hockey minds who say you can’t teach size and those who, correctly, identify size as meaningless when a player is constantly being shelled at even-strength play.
Even if you consider his skating or puck-handling to be good for his size, it’s not good enough to keep up with the NHL pace or, for that matter, the AHL pace. His wingspan could be useful, but only if he maintains proper positioning to begin with. The clip above comes from a game in December about which Hardev noted:
“He played a game on Boxing Day...where he and Jordan Schmaltz got absolutely embarrassed for 20 minutes. [They] genuinely couldn’t get out of the zone or make a pass; turnovers, no movement, it was awful.”
Around the end of 2019, Harpur (#22) approached Toronto to request a trade.
His defensive game is littered with passive stick-play, inconsistent footwork and, at times, a lack of lateral quickness.
Despite penalty killing being the only relative bright spot of his tenure in Ottawa, the flaws noted above have prevented any regular special teams usage in Toronto.
His offensive contributions, at even strength, will be limited to point and perimeter shots, not too unlike Jarred Tinordi. The difference, however, is I trust Tinordi’s ability to lead the rush more and Harpur should see no special teams minutes.
It’s likely if Harpur finds a regular spot in the Milwaukee lineup, he will strike up beside Frederic Allard. Although it’s frustrating, Allard is likely the best option to mitigate his role as a liability. But, again, the difference between Harpur, Healey and Atwal is likely negligible.
What might be the most noticeably frustrating aspect of this trade is the contracts that were swapped. Harpur comes in with a $725,000 cap hit, just $25,000 less than Salomaki, but his minors salary is $50,000 more—$800,000.
Additionally, while Salomaki is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent this summer, Harpur will be a restricted free agent, possibly (but hopefully not) enlarging the temptation for David Poile to qualify him come June.