At the 2019 NHL Entry Draft, former Minnesota Wild general manager Paul Fenton stirred up some controversy when he stated that the “…thing I liked is when guys came up to our table and they were taller than me.” It was a strange statement that seemed to fit better in a decade long past, rather than in an NHL that is transitioning smaller and faster.
Yet, Fenton has a point. It’s hard to look away from a truly giant hockey player. The NHL’s average height has been consistent for two decades – around 6-foot-1 – yet during the same time frame, the game has seen its biggest players ever. While players of immense height have appeared for nearly every team, the Ottawa Senators have inexplicably been temporary homes to the some of the biggest. So, let’s take a look back at the tallest players who have donned the red, white and black over the years.
Zdeno Chara: 6-foot-9
The tallest player the NHL has ever seen may have began his career with the New York Islanders, who drafted him in the third round in 1996, but it was with the Senators that Zdeno Chara became a household name. With the Islanders, Chara was little more than a solid shutdown defender, never scoring more than 11 points in his four seasons with the team. His skating and agility, they said, just weren’t good enough for him to be a top pairing guy.
That all changed in 2001 when Chara was included in the trade for Alexei Yashin. The Senators’ defense corps was young and talented, and Chara fit right in, scoring 23 points in his first season with the team, and it only got better from there. From 2002 to 2006, Chara scored at least 39 points and accumulated 135 penalty minutes. In just four seasons, the Slovakian giant had become one of the best all-around defensemen in the NHL.
In 2006, both Chara and defensive partner Wade Redden were pending free agents, and the team could only afford to keep one. Management chose Redden, allowing Chara to sign with the Boston Bruins. In hindsight, it was the wrong choice: Redden, although the higher scorer in Ottawa, would quickly be slowed by age and injuries, while Chara would become one of the best offensive defenders in Boston, winning a Stanley Cup with them in 2011, just the second European captain to do so.
Ben Bishop: 6-foot-7
While players have become smaller on average in recent years, the NHL is dominated by the tall goalie. The average goaltender’s height sits at 6-foot-2, but several stars stand well above 6-foot-4. Currently, Ben Bishop is the tallest goalie to play in the NHL, and although it was mostly forgettable, he too passed through Ottawa on his journey towards dominance.
Bishop was drafted in the third round by the St. Louis Blues in 2005, but didn’t appear in the NHL until 2008. He struggled to find consistency with the organization, despite numerous call-ups, so in 2012, he was flipped to Ottawa for a second-round pick. With the Senators, Bishop was expected to solidify the team’s goaltender depth as a potential backup to Craig Anderson. Bishop’s numbers improved, but he was outplayed at every turn by fellow prospect Robin Lehner, leaving him as the odd man out.
Related: Ben Bishop Trade Revisited
At the end of the 2013 season, Bishop was traded to the Tampa Bay Lightning for Cory Conacher and a fourth-round pick. With little competition for the starting job, Bishop thrived with the Lightning, posting the best numbers of his career. However, when Andrei Vasilevsky arrived in Tampa, Bishop was once again the odd man out and was traded to the Los Angeles Kings, then to the Dallas Stars in the space of a few months. With Dallas, Bishop has played his best hockey, establishing himself as not only the tallest, but one of the best goalies in the league.
Mads Sogaard: 6-foot-7.5
If Mads Sogaard makes it to the NHL, he could become the tallest goalie in league history. However, as he was just drafted by the Senators in 2019, the Danish giant will have to wait a little while before he can break Bishop’s record.
Sogaard leaped onto scout’s radars at the beginning of the 2018-19 season when he was named the WHL’s goalie of the week in December, during which he posted two wins, a 1.50 GAA, and stopped 85 of 88 shots. His performance earned him a spot on the Danish World Junior team and Sogaard hoped to build on his U18 success, with whom he won two bronze medals. The Danes crumbled, though, failing to win a game and leaving them relegated to Division 1 A for the first time since 2014.
Thankfully, the disappointing result failed to decrease Sogaard’s draft stock. Coming into the 2019 NHL draft, he was ranked second among North American goalies and third among all eligible goalies. The Senators traded up to select Sogaard in the second round, sending their 44th and 83rd picks to the Carolina Hurricanes for their 37th selection. He’ll return to play for the Medicine Hat Tigers for the 2019-20 season
Ben Harpur: 6-foot-6.5
In 2015-16, Ben Harpur joined the Senators organization, becoming the biggest player to suit up for Ottawa since Chara. However, the two big men have so far had very different career paths. A fourth-round selection in 2013, Harpur does not offer much offense; in 103 NHL games, he has scored just a single goal, which came in December of 2018.
Despite his offensive limitations, Harpur was well regarded among the Senators. In 2016-17, he named MVP for the AHL’s Binghamton Senators, which led to a call up to join the Senators in the playoffs against the Boston Bruins. In June, Harpur also appeared at the Ice Hockey Classic in Australia as part of Team Canada. It was specifically significant for Harpur, whose mother was born in Australia, giving Harpur dual citizenship.
On July 1, 2019, Harpur was traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs along with Cody Ceci for Connor Brown and Nikita Zaitsev. While former Senators’ coach Guy Boucher relied on Harpur during the 2018-19 season for stability and on the penalty kill, it is undetermined what role he will play with the Leafs. Regardless, he’ll keep his title as the biggest player on the team.
Logan Brown: 6-foot-6
Like Sogaard, Logan Brown has yet to prove himself as an NHL regular with the Senators, who drafted him in the first round in 2016. However, Brown looks to be much closer to making the team. He has a full season of professional hockey under his belt, and the Senators are ecstatic with the player they have on their hands.
The son of former NHLer Jeff Brown was praised for his offensive acumen after a 74-point season with the OHL’s Windsor Spitfires in 2015-16 and arguably had one of the best shots in the upcoming draft. The Senators traded up to select him, hoping he would become their future No. 1 center. Injuries took up much of the following season, limiting Brown to just 35 games, but he still helped the Spitfires capture the Memorial Cup.
The Senators gave Brown a four-game tryout in 2017-18, but opted to return him to junior, allowing him to play in the World Junior Championship where he won a bronze medal with the Americans. He made his AHL debut in 2018-19, scoring 42 points in 56 games. Some have pointed to his reluctance to use his size to its potential, but it hasn’t hindered him much, as he looks ready to join the Senators full-time for the 2019-20 season.
Anders Nilsson: 6-foot-6
Anders Nilsson has had a long, tough road so far in his NHL career. When the big goalie joined the Senators in 2019 after a trade from the Vancouver Canucks, it was his seventh team since 2011. It also was one of his best showings and earned him a two-year, $6.2 million extension, which the Senators hope is enough time for him to mentor fellow goalie giants Sogaard, Marcus Hogberg (6-foot-5) and Kevin Mandolese (6-foot-4).
Drafted by the Islanders in the third round of the 2009 draft, Nilsson joined the team in 2011 expecting to see significant time in the NHL. Yet general manager Garth Snow had stockpiled goalies, leaving little room for the big Swede. After 23 games over three seasons, Nilsson decided to return to Europe, signing in the KHL in 2014, where he established himself as one of the best goalies in the league.
When hockey resumed for the 2015-16 season, Nilsson’s rights had been acquired by the Edmonton Oilers, which prompted him to re-sign in North America. After three seasons, however, Nilsson had played no more than 27 games for an NHL team and appeared in net for four different franchises. However, there’s reason to hope this trend changes with the Senators. It’s worth noting Bishop didn’t become a starter until his sixth season in the NHL. Maybe big goalies just need more time.
Francois Leroux and Dmitri Filimonov: 6-foot-6
There are few things to celebrate from the Senators’ first few seasons in the NHL. The team set a record for consecutive road losses and nearly broke the record for least wins. However, one of the things they succeeded at was (briefly) icing two of the biggest defenders in the NHL at the time in Francois Leroux and Dmitri Filimonov.
Leroux was a product of a different time. The Oilers selected the towering defender in the first round, 19th overall, in the 1988 draft after an 11-point, 185 penalty-minute season in the QMJHL. Unsurprisingly, Leroux failed to make much of an impression with the Oilers, appearing in just 11 games over five seasons. In 1993-94, the Senators picked up Leroux off waivers and he appeared in 23 games that season, using his hulking size to pile up 70 penalty minutes and six fights.
Those would be the only games he would play for the Senators, as he would be placed on waivers the next season after spending time in the minors and would be picked up by the Pittsburgh Penguins. Leroux would experience some success with the Penguins over the next three seasons, becoming a fan favourite due to his willingness to fight the toughest enforcers of the decade. In 1997-98, he joined the Colorado Avalanche for a single season, then finished his career in the minors.
Although similarly sized, Fimilonov was a completely different player. A third-round selection by the Winnipeg Jets in 1991, the Russian played a steady shut-down role in the Soviet leagues and only came to the NHL when he joined the Senators in 1993-94, appearing in 30 games and scoring a goal and five assists. He played in the AHL for another season, but returned to Russia in 1996-97, where he played until 2006.
Andy Sutton: 6-foot-6
For a big man, Andy Sutton had surprising mobility, allowing him to become a reliable stay-at-home defenseman in the NHL despite going undrafted. With the San Jose Sharks, Minnesota Wild, Atlanta Thrashers and Islanders, he established himself as one of the best shot-blockers in the league. However, his time with the Senators was mostly forgettable, and over nearly as soon as it began.
Sutton joined the Senators in March of 2010 in order to help the team make a playoff push. Ottawa already had one of the biggest defense corps in the league, with 6-foot-5 Matt Carkner and 6-foot-4 Filip Kuba on the roster, and 6-foot-5 Jared Cowen waiting in the minors. It seemed like a recipe for success, and after 18 games, Sutton had blocked 51 shots, while adding a single goal and 34 penalty minutes.
In the playoffs, however, the Senators crumbled, getting eliminated in six games. Sutton did all he could, blocking 17 shots and registering 24 hits while playing over 23 minutes a night, but it made no difference. It made little sense, therefore, to stay in Ottawa, so Sutton signed with the Anaheim Ducks that offseason. He ended his career after 15 seasons, in 2013, playing in 676 games, blocking 1164 shots and laying 1134 hits.
Buddy Robinson: 6-foot-6
Like Sutton, Buddy Robinson went undrafted but signed an NHL contract after completing his college career, inking a deal with the Senators in 2013. However, Robinson has struggled to establish himself as an NHL regular, despite his imposing size and offensive skills.
Robinson joined the AHL’s Belleville Senators in 2013-14 and immediately established himself as a budding power forward, scoring 31 points in 69 games. He had good strength and was able to lay punishing hits, but even more so, he had the mobility needed to succeed at the highest level. In 2015-16, he earned his first call-up, appearing in three games over the season and scoring a goal and an assist.
Although Robinson would play four more games in Ottawa, he wouldn’t score another point, and so in January 2017, he was traded to San Jose, where he served in the minors without a single call-up. He signed in Winnipeg for 2017-18, but he would likewise not appear for them, either, despite scoring 53 points in the AHL. The Calgary Flames would sign him in 2018, where he continues to play for their affiliate in Stockton, still looking to build on his NHL career.
An elementary teacher by day and an avid hockey fan, Dayton joined The Hockey Writers in 2019 and currently covers the Ottawa Senators, World Juniors, and NHL Entry Draft.