Leafs' Harpur on struggles playing in Ottawa: 'It becomes tough to come to the rink'

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The last couple of years have been tough sledding for Ben Harpur.

The 6-foot-6 defenceman was able to prove himself capable of playing consistently at the NHL level during that time. Unfortunately for him, he did so with the Ottawa Senators — a team that finished second-to-last in the league standings two seasons ago and right in the basement in 2018-19.

As a result, he was pretty excited when he found out on July 1 that he’d be moving four-and-a-half hours southwest. The 24-year-old was part of the trade between the Senators and Toronto Maple Leafs that saw Connor Brown and Nikita Zaitsev exchanged for Cody Ceci, Aaron Luchuk and a third-round pick in the 2020 NHL Draft.

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“As an athlete, as a competitor, you never want to lose. Coming second-last and last the past two seasons was definitely tough,” Harpur said in an interview with Sportsnet’s Luke Fox.

“It becomes tough to come to the rink. You try to make the most of it. You try to enjoy the time with your teammates and build as a team, but when I heard the news I was coming to Toronto, having played against them the past two years and knowing the firepower they have, the D corps they’ve built and obviously the goaltender they have, it’s very exciting to be part of that organization.”

Ben Harpur, right, is excited to be on the other side of the Battle of Ontario. (Photo by Richard A. Whittaker/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Ben Harpur, right, is excited to be on the other side of the Battle of Ontario. (Photo by Richard A. Whittaker/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

While he is by no means a lock to be in the Maple Leafs’ lineup when they kick off 2019-20 against his former team at Scotiabank Arena on Oct. 2, Harpur has the ability to bring some unique elements to the team’s back end. His build and effectiveness on the penalty kill are the most notable. In fact, they may be what end up securing him a spot on the left side of the squad’s bottom pairing.

“If I can provide them with size, some reach and toughness, that might be a good fit for them,” he said to Fox. “Honestly, at this point, my mindset is, whatever I can do to help the Maple Leafs win, that’s what I’m committed to doing.”

A quick glance at the numbers are all that is required to back up those words. The native of Hamilton, Ont. has one goal and seven points in 103 career regular season games. And while he’s a combined minus-34 over the last two campaigns, it should be noted that he began over 56 percent of his shifts in the defensive zone during that time, according to Fox.

Ideally he won’t find himself in that situation nearly as often if he’s able to crack Toronto’s roster this fall.

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