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Top 25 Under 25, no. 22: Ben Harpur

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After an OHL Championship and a trip to the Memorial Cup with the Guelph Storm, defenseman Ben Harpur makes his first appearance on our Top 25 Under 25 list.

Here's Harpur trying to chokeslam his opponent.
Here's Harpur trying to chokeslam his opponent.
Bruce Bennett

Who wouldn't want a 6'6 defenseman who can skate?

The Sens scouting staff, clearly. One of Bryan Murray's favourite words is "big", and though that can be great, if the player doesn't have other tools like strong hockey IQ, skating, and puck skills, he's probably not going to pan out. Thankfully, Ben Harpur appears to have some other interesting qualities, which makes him an interesting player to watch moving forward. Here's a note from Nick Kypreos, who attended Harpur's first OHL game as a member of the Guelph Storm and was extremely impressed.

Even though I thoguth Pedan was the best player on the ice on either side I kept coming back to watching a rookie who was playing in his first OHL game, Ben Harpur. The Niagara-on-the-Lake native is not draft eligible until 2013. Remember the name. If you get out to a Storm game this year you can't miss him, he's the huge 6'5 guy on the backend. Speculation is, when he fills out, Harpur will come in somewhere around 6'6 230 (right now he's hovering around 185) and is already drawing comparisons to Chris Pronger. And not just because of the size but also because he's an above-average skater (his midget coach in Niagara Falls Rick Ferroni has a reputation of putting a sharp focus on skating with all his kids and Harpur is proof). Harpur has the mobility of a much smaller player who has a nasty streak as well. He played forward his entire life (right wing specifically) and didn't take a shift on the blueline until last December but took to the position effortlessly.

The conversion to forward to defense is a hard switch, and the fact that Harpur made the progression as well as he did and is known for his defensive game says a lot for his hockey IQ in my opinion. The blog OHLProspects thinks similarly, as Harpur was rated as the 31st best OHL draft eligible player. Of note since Kypreos mentioned how Harpur was filling out, he's now listed at 212 lbs.

The Senators clearly liked what they saw in Harpur and drafted him in the 4th round of the 2013 draft. Here's what area scout Greg Royce had to say about Harpur at the time of his selection.

Ben's a big body, a defensive defenceman who plays a shutdown role for Guelph, he's pretty raw. It was his first year in the league last year, he really improved after Christmas. He's really coming into his own, he's learning to be more assertive, using his size more and as that comes forward I think he'll be able to handle the puck a little bit more and his confidence will grow.

I think he's going to project in the future as a complimentary defenceman in the 5-7 role. Defensive guy, stay at home and move the puck and use his size to his advantage.

From this report, it looks like the Senators took a bit of a gamble on his offensive potential when drafting him, as you definitely need to handle the puck and have confidence to play defense. Harpur's development has been helped by playing on a stacked junior team, as this past year, Guelph won the OHL Championship and went to the Memorial Cup Final. To me, playing in big games like that can only be good for his development. However, can we tease out how big of a role Harpur played this season?

Ben Harpur's season

First, his point history from Elite Prospects. From a quick glance, his year to year point production from 2012-13 to 2013-14 only improved by one point, which is worrying, as in general, CHL defenseman who don't produce points in the CHL don't end up making the NHL. This also seems quite odd, as Harpur played on one of the best offensive teams in the OHL. Let's examine this a little further using statistics from ExtraSkater.

Age

Games Played

P/60

EV P/60

GF%

GF% rel.

PShr

Matt Finn (TOR)

19

66

2.3

1.6

71.5%

+6.5%

34.4%

Zac Leslie (LAK)

19

60

2.0

1.5

65.5%

+0.8%

35.9%

Steven Trojanovic

20

61

1.8

1.3

67.3%

+2.6%

29.0%

Nick Ebert (LAK)

19

38

2.2

1.0

69.7%

+4.6%

23.9%

Ben Harpur (OTT)

18

67

0.8

0.8

64.4%

-2.2%

18.5%

Phil Baltisberger

17

57

1.1

1.4

66.2%

-0.6%

29.8%

Chadd Bauman

18

66

1.2

1.2

59.5%

-7.1%

32.0%

Garrett McFadden

16

42

1.1

1.2

59.2%

-8.4%

27.6%

(Note: goal-based numbers [last four columns] are all at even-strength)

A couple things to note here that may explain Harpur's depreciated numbers. Firstly, he plays behind three older drafted prospects, and an 20-year old, who looked to get most of the minutes with the big offensive players given their points per 60 (P/60) rate overall, and at even-strength (EV). It also looks like Harpur got very little powerplay time, seeing as his EV P/60 and overall P/60 rates are the same, 0.8. This number is a bit worrying, as it's the lowest on the time and the only one under 1.0. Harpur also has the lowest point-share rating (PShr), which means that every time a goal was scored for Guelph, Harpur only got a point on 18.5% of them - the lowest mark on the team.

What about goal-based statistics? First note: all of the goal-based numbers (last four columns) are at even-strength. All of the players on Guelph saw more goals when them on the ice than off the ice as Guelph was an offensive powerhouse this season. As you can see in the GF% column, all of the players have a rating of > 59.2%, meaning that when they were on the ice, Guelph generated ~60% of the goals. The important column to look at here is the GF% rel. column, which shows your GF% numbers relative to your teammates. In this metric, Harpur doesn't fare that well, having a difference of -2.2%. What this means is that Harpur allowed more goals when he was on the ice relative to his teammates.

Now, although these statistics don't seem very favourable, maybe they can be explained by time on ice and quality of competition metrics. After all, Harpur is a shutdown defensive defenseman, which you wouldn't expect to have great goal-based numbers because he's playing against the opposition's top lines all the time. The CHL currently does not track time on ice or quality of competition, but ExtraSkater has estimates for these statistics that we'll use right now. A glimpse into how these were calculated can be found here

Age

eTOI/60

EVeTOI%

PPeTOI%

SHeTOI%

QoC eTOI%

QoT eTOI%

Matt Finn (TOR)

19

23.6

39.2%

44.9%

32.8%

29.1%

30.0%

Zac Leslie (LAK)

19

24.6

40.7%

47.0%

36.8%

29.4%

30.0%

Steven Trojanovic

20

21.7

36.2%

43.2%

28.5%

29.2%

30.2%

Nick Ebert (LAK)

19

23.7

38.4%

56.1%

28.3%

28.5%

31.6%

Ben Harpur (OTT)

18

17.0

30.1%

13.3%

34.2%

29.0%

28.1%

Phil Baltisberger

17

14.2

23.9%

6.8%

39.2%

29.0%

29.4%

Chadd Bauman

18

6.9

13.2%

3.1%

9.8%

26.3%

26.8%

Garrett McFadden

16

10.0

21.5%

4.9%

0.0%

30.1%

29.9%

Again, a note here to take the inferences we draw from this data with a gain of salt, as these are estimates, but this does seem to support the "Harpur is mainly used in a strong defensive role" theory. Firstly, we can see the boundary between Harpur and our group of four defenseman - which includes the other drafted players - that we talked about earlier in the estimated TOI metric (eTOI/60), with the top-four getting 20+ minutes a night, and Harpur right after them with 17 minutes. Those four defenseman also play more at even-strength and on the powerplay, but less on the penalty kill than Harpur, with the exception of Zac Leslie. A note on how to read the eTOI% columns - for SHeTOI%, we can say that Ben Harpur is on the ice for 34.2% of his team's shorthanded minutes.

With respect to Quality of Competition, we can see that five of the top-six defenseman all have numbers around 29%. Without the use of zone starts, it's hard to infer usage, but my best guess is that Guelph's coach trusts all six of them to play against relatively equal competition at even-strength. The last column, QoT eTOI% is an interesting one. QoT looks at the quality of teammates a certain player has when they're on the ice, and we can see here that Harpur has one of the lowest numbers - 28.1%. This is more evidence in favour of something I was hinting at earlier, which is that Harpur does not play a bulk of his minutes with Guelph's prolific top-six (which could be partly responsible for his lower offensive totals).

Future Projections

Although some of the numbers I showcased above don't seem favourable for Harpur, there are a couple of positive notes and disclaimers to point out. Firstly, Harpur, who was 18 this season, was younger than the rest of the top-six last year, which is huge in junior as the year-to-year development gap can be big. Secondly, as a younger player, Harpur was still trusted with tough defensive minutes - playing similar quality of competition as the older players and a bulk of the shorthanded minutes, although he did play less overall per game. Lastly, with a number of Guelph's older players graduating or moving on, Harpur is expected to be a leader on the Storm next season, which should correspond with an uptick in minutes and quality of teammates, which could lead to more points. As one of the four Storm players at Canada's world junior development camp, Harpur's talent has come to the attention of Team Canada brass, which can only be a positive thing, and Harpur will gain invaluable experience from some of the best coaches there, as well as take the things he learned from attending Ottawa's development camp in July. Defensive defenseman usually take a little longer to develop, but given the experience Harpur has already collected at 18 years old, he seems on his way to fulfilling his projection of a defensive defenseman in the 5-7 role with PK time, and will definitely be an interesting name to pay attention to for this upcoming season.

Thanks for reading!