SENS DEFENCEMAN READY TO SEIZE HIS OPPORTUNITY
After sitting in press box for first four games, Ben Harpur to make season debut
Losing three players at once creates a rather large hole in the lineup, and of his options to fill it, Senators coach Guy Boucher was revealing only one thing on Friday: They will include Big Ben Harpur.
Against the “heavy” Los Angeles Kings, however, the 6-6, 222-pound defenceman is not necessarily being added for his size, but just to be himself. And that’s not a brute. To backtrack, the Senators have placed on injured reserve left-wingers Ryan Dzingel (muscle injury) and Alex Formenton (concussion), as well as defenceman Cody Ceci (two undisclosed injuries).
GM Pierre Dorion is hopeful all three, plus injured forward Max McCormick, will be ready to return against the Montreal Canadiens on Oct. 20, which means they would miss just two games.
In the meantime, forward Nick Paul and defenceman Christian Jaros have been recalled from the AHL’s Belleville Senators. Harpur and centre Paul Carey were already with Ottawa as extras, but Boucher would only confirm the former will play Saturday, as it sounds like he’s leaning toward an 11-forward, seven-defencemen alignment.
“We still have to make decisions,” he said.
Boucher had already decided to give this game to Harpur, who despite having a one-way contract, was beat out of a job at camp by Max Lajoie. While the Senators have urged the 23-yearold friendly giant to become more of a physical force in the past, Boucher is no longer pushing him to be pushy.
“I’ve learned over time that sometimes you want players to be something and they’ve got to be what they are, too,” Boucher said. “What we’re asking of Ben, really for me, is yeah, there’s the physical side of the game, like every other player. Because he’s that big, you’d want the guy to be a big, hard hammer out there. But that’s not the type of player he is. He’s a solid person that can play a good defensive game, but he’s actually good with the puck. And he likes to play with the puck and he likes to make plays, and all that. And that’s good.
“From him, what we need is the consistency in his game. He’s looked really good at some moments, terrific, then it slips away for five minutes and it comes back later. That’s where he’s got to grow. Not because he hasn’t shown what he needs to be in the NHL. He has shown that. But he has to double and triple those moments where he looks like that, and make it consistent.”
After three seasons in the Senators’ system, including 52 games for Ottawa, Harpur finally landed the deal that would pay him NHL money no matter where he played this season. The fact that he did not have a strong camp and Lajoie surprisingly elevated his own progression put Harpur in the press box for the first four games.
“It’s tough, but I think it was important for me to stay positive,” said Harpur, who drew regular minutes in nine games during the Senators’ playoff run two springs ago.
“Being around the guys and still being positive and upbeat, and still putting a smile on your face, and not dragging anyone down ... I’ve been trying to do that.”
He’d had to do more. With the Senators having won only one of their first four games, Boucher wasn’t going to activate anybody just for being a nice guy.
“When you’re not playing, practice is the best opportunity to show that you’re ready,” Harpur said. “Coaches talked to me during that process and made sure I was working hard.”
Meanwhile, the rash of injuries attacks the Senators in tender spots. Dzingel, the team coleader in goals last season, has a couple plus a pair of assists to date while mostly dealing with an aggravation.
“We’ve been managing it as best we could,” Boucher said, “but right now we feel it’s important to get rid of it.”
Formenton, who will not be going back to junior if he keeps playing like he did in the last two games, suffered a concussion while showing off his grit against the Philadelphia Flyers.
“He’s doing very well today,” said Dorion, who was surprised Ceci managed to maintain his team lead in ice time against the Flyers. “He’s definitely the toughest person from Orléans (which is also where Dorion is from), to play through the pain he played through last game.”
The Kings come to town with a 2-1-1 record and fresh off spoiling the Montreal Canadiens’ home opener with a 3-0 victory on Thursday.
“They’re heavy, they’re hard, they’re structured,” said Senators winger Mikkel Boedker, who saw plenty of the Kings during his 10 years in the Western Conference. “So it’s a good opportunity and it’s a good challenge for us.
“We have a lot of fallen soldiers around here right now, but that’s the way it goes. We’ve got to have a next-man-up mentality.”
JAROS EXPECTED TO BE A BIG HIT WITH SENS
The thought of playing his first NHL game of the season against a team with the reputation of being big and tough actually pleases Christian Jaros to no end.
“I like to play against physical guys,” said the 22-year old, who was the Senators’ last training camp cut. “It’s kind of my style, how I play. So I’m looking forward to it.”
Jaros says he used the demotion to Belleville as motivation to work harder. In his one game with the B-Sens, on the road in Utica, he was the team’s best defenceman. Asked if he racked up any opposing forwards, Jaros smiled.
“I don’t know,” he said. “I give some hits, they give me some hits. So it was like both. It was very physical hockey. Fun to play.”
Coach Guy Boucher is a Jaros fan.
“We have to make decisions, but let’s say it like it is: He was outstanding at camp,” Boucher said.
“In the end, it became a decision between him and (Max) Lajoie ... between outstanding and outstanding. Pick your ... I won’t say poison ... pick your Christmas present. I think we made a good choice, but I still believe this guy (Jaros) is quite a player.”
Ben Harpur is expected to be in the Ottawa Senators’ lineup for the first time this season Saturday.