Every summer, Penguins prospects from across the country, continent and globe gather together for development camp. For some guys, the city, arena and experience are new. But for others, like Harrison Ruopp, camp at CONSOL Energy Center is a familiar sight.
“I definitely feel a lot more comfortable,” Ruopp said. “My first year coming in here, I didn’t really know anyone too well. I was a bit more shy, more reserved and now I feel a lot more open. It’s definitely easier when you feel more comfortable.”
The 21-year-old defenseman has spent the last two seasons in the Penguins organization after being acquired by Pittsburgh in a 2012 draft-day deal from the Arizona Coyotes along with a 2012 third-round draft pick (Oskar Sundqvist) in exchange for Zbynek Michalek.
Ruopp spent time with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton of the American Hockey League (AHL) during the 2013 playoffs after finishing his fourth and final season with Prince Albert of the Western Hockey League (WHL). He then played his first full professional season in 2013-14, splitting the year between WBS and the Wheeling Nailers of the ECHL.
“It was definitely a different year for me,” Ruopp said. “It was like nothing that I’ve experienced before, especially being at the pro level. But whether I was in Wilkes-Barre or Wheeling, I learned a lot of good habits and there are great coaching staff and players on both teams, so I had a great year.”
Standing at 6-foot-3 and weighing 205 pounds, the blueliner tallied three assists in 19 games with Wheeling. Ruopp said he learned a lot by playing against the more experienced guys with Wilkes-Barre.
“There are bigger and stronger guys. There are NHL players,” Ruopp said. “You’re playing against pro guys, and I mean it was definitely a change for me, but it was something I really enjoyed.”
In juniors, Ruopp played a shutdown role and was known as a punishing defender who reveled in the physical aspect of the game — never shying away from laying big hits. But he knows if he wants to succeed at the pro level, he will need to continue finessing his skills this season and work on rounding out his game.
“I definitely want to improve on everything,” Ruopp said. “I worked a lot after practices on my puck work and stickhandling and things like that. Those are the areas of my game that I need to improve on the most. But, I think, just becoming a more solid all-around defenseman is important.”
Ruopp signed a three-year entry-level contract with the Penguins on April 4, 2013 that runs through the 2015-16 campaign and hopes to establish himself as a future leader, on and off of the ice.
“If I can be looked at as a leader, that’s definitely an honor for me,” Ruopp said. “I would love to get that into my game and become a leader at the pro ranks if I could. And if that starts at development camp, that’s great.”