Rangers defenseman Ben Harpur treats ‘every day as a tryout’

There was a point this past summer when Ben Harpur contemplated giving up hockey altogether. 

It wasn’t until there was less than a week before training camps opened that the Blue Jackets signed the 27-year-old defenseman to a professional tryout contract, which went awry after Harpur was hurt in a fight during a preseason game against the Penguins. He was cut and then had to resort to another PTO with the Rangers’ AHL affiliate, the Hartford Wolf Pack. 

After being called up in early December, Harpur was a healthy scratch for five games before he got his chance on Dec. 15 against the Maple Leafs. Since then, the 6-foot-6, 231-pounder has been a staple on the Rangers’ third defensive pair with Braden Schneider. Harpur ultimately earned a two-year contract extension, which carries a $787,500 average annual value, with the Rangers. 

“It feels good,” Harpur said before the Rangers skated in their final game before the All-Star break on Friday night against the Golden Knights. “Getting that out of the way and being under contract for the next two years is nice — especially after the summer I had last summer. It was pretty stressful. Going through the camp that I did and turning an AHL PTO into a two-year extension, it’s a great accomplishment for me. I’m pretty proud of myself and the way I grinded through it all. 

“Just super happy to be here and it’s been a great couple of months so far and I’m really enjoying my time here. The guys have all made it easy. All the staff have made it really easy, so very excited to be here.” 

Ben Harpur skates with the puck against the New York Islanders at Madison Square Garden on December 22, 2022 in New York City.
Defenseman Ben Harpur skates the puck up the ice against the New York Islanders at Madison Square Garden.
NHLI via Getty Images

The signing does not bode well for Zac Jones, who has been in Hartford since Harpur was recalled. Harpur simply looks and plays to the style that head coach Gerard Gallant wants, rounding out his defense corps. He also earned Gallant’s trust more quickly than did Jones and Libor Hajek, who also had a stretch of games earlier in the season. 

Entering Friday, Harpur had one goal and two assists in 18 games with six penalty minutes. 

“Being safe, playing smart, playing hard,” Gallant said of how Harpur solidified a roster spot. “Not flashy at all, as we all know, but he’s just doing a good job there. I think our team has played really well since he’s been in the lineup. Not putting that all on him, but just the makeup sometimes and with a guy like that on the back: A big, physical guy when he has to be.” 

Fluctuating in and out of the lineup and between the NHL and minor leagues has been a big part of Harpur’s hockey career. It’s something to which he has grown accustomed, but he still came into the Rangers’ organization with an open mind. He said he knows nothing is ever cemented in the NHL and that other players are always gunning to take someone else’s job, so Harpur has viewed every day as a tryout. 

The matchup Friday night against the Golden Knights was Harpur’s 19th straight game skating alongside Schneider. 

“I think we’ve done nothing but grow confident and grow confidence in each other,” Schneider said of Harpur. “I think we’ve played really well. I think each game, we’re getting better and we know what each other’s tendencies are now and what we need to do to succeed. I’m extremely happy for him and he’s earned every bit of it, and I hope we can keep things going.”

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