Breakdown: Nashville extends defender Ben Harpur
Harpur appeared in seven games for Milwaukee last season.
On Friday, the Nashville Predators announced a one-year contract extension for defender Ben Harpur.
As Admirals captain Jarred Tinordi carved out a full-time role in Nashville towards the end of the paused 2019-20 season, Harpur was acquired in late February from Toronto in exchange for Miikka Salomäki. He skated in just seven games for Milwaukee before the season was halted, but his reputation from Toronto preceded him.
His brief appearance in Milwaukee did not inspire any newfound confidence.
By The Numbers
In those seven games, Harpur recorded just one point, a primary assist, while playing mostly alongside Alexandre Carrier (and briefly Frédéric Allard). In February, I wrote about his disastrous impact on both sides of the puck in his limited NHL action to date. I also added anecdotal evidence on his usage in Toronto—where he quickly fell from a second-pair defender for the Marlies to a healthy scratch, often struggling to clear the zone or complete a pass.
I manually tracked Harpur’s seven games in Milwaukee, and the results, unsurprisingly, provided little to be impressed by.
|GT||Corsi||CF/60||CA/60||Cont. Exit %||Entry Against %||HDSA/60|
Of the team’s regular six defenders (seven including Tinordi), Harpur recorded the worst Corsi rating—a putrid 47.87%—allowing nearly 60 shot attempts against per 60 minutes (59.91). His controlled exit ability was actually mildly impressive, skating or passing the puck out of the zone successfully 60.53% of the time.
Unfortunately, however, he struggled to maintain good gap control (as shown below), allowing a controlled zone entry to the opponent 53.85% of the time (team worst) and, in turn, gave up a shocking 8.56 high-danger shots against per 60 minutes.
The Scouting Tape
Harpur’s game is defined by his impressive 6’6” frame, but he struggles to use it effectively and severely lacks proper defensive skill to play top minutes at the AHL level, let alone in the NHL.
Harpur is regularly careless with the puck on his stick in the defensive zone. In the clip above, he reads the ice to prepare for a breakout and recognizes his winger with plenty of space on the boards. Instead of connecting on a simple pass, he draws the forechecker in too close and just hands him the puck. There’s a bit of a skip in the video, but his reaction to the turnover is remarkably delayed as he watches San Antonio record a shot attempt.
The biggest impediment to his game, however, is his gap control; it’s almost completely nonexistent in some scenarios. In the above clip, Harpur pivots to the puck carrier but doesn’t gap up, relying on his stick to maybe cover a passing lane. As the opposition pulls up, his response consists of laborious crossover steps while failing to notice the incoming forward. Simply put, his skating ability is not up to par.
Here we see somewhat of a decent play from Harpur. Again, he’s wildly off position from the puck-carrier as he enters the zone, but I think he adjusts well and is able to cut off the opponent from the puck with a good angle of attack.
Unfortunately, plays like that were rare. In the play above, San Antonio enters the zone with a quick pass that Harpur lunges out. Right off the bat, he’s already broken down his positioning to the puck carrier. He then pivots his body a whole 180 degrees, not using his stick to cover the lane he just abandoned, and exposes the middle of the ice as he tries to open up to the puck carrier. The latter then makes an easy move through his legs before setting up a great scoring opportunity.
I mentioned above how Harpur’s zone exit ability was a pleasant surprise during his time in Milwaukee. Despite being a below-average skater, his size can help him push the puck forward through opposing forecheckers like in the clip above. But, it’s rare these rushes resulted in much of a high-danger chance.
At the end of that clip, you can tell that he is capable of good defensive positioning, but his skating is a major concern that doesn’t pair well with poor decision-making, too.
The one-year contract is a two-way deal with a $700K cap hit. Harpur’s NHL-level salary is also $700K, while his salary in the AHL comes in at $225K.
Upon expiry, Harpur will be a restricted free agent.
All statistics are courtesy of eliteprospects.com or manually tracked. All contract information is courtesy of capfriendly.com.