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Hard Work Earns Rupp Special Teams Duty

by Jason Seidling / Pittsburgh Penguins
Penguins forward Mike Rupp proved his versatility on several occasions during his first season in Pittsburgh last year.

Whether it was centering the fourth line in an energy role or notching a hat trick on Sidney Crosby’s wing against the New York Rangers, Rupp excelled in every situation head coach Dan Bylsma threw his way.

If the early portion of the 2010-11 season is any indication, Rupp figures to be adding even more responsibilities to his list of job descriptions.

Since the beginning of training camp last month, Rupp’s hard work in practice has led to him seeing extra minutes on both the penalty killing and No. 2 power-play units.

“Playing on the fourth line, it provides an opportunity to get some special teams minutes,” Rupp said. “You get a chance to get more involved in the game. In turn, I think that helps me to feel more involved five-on-five because you get more acclimated to the game.”

Drawing net-front presence duties on the power play is nothing new for Rupp – he performed the same role a few times for the Penguins last season, and also did so on numerous occasions during his days with the New Jersey Devils – but taking shifts on the penalty kill is new.

Following practice on Friday, Bylsma talked about how he toyed with the idea of using Rupp on the PK last season, but the Penguins’ depth there kept Rupp from seeing game action. Fast forward one season and a Jordan Staal injury later, and Bylsma believed now was the perfect time to see if Rupp could contribute to the Penguins’ outstanding PK unit.

“Mike is a guy we talked to about killing penalties last season,” Bylsma said. “He spends a lot of time in practice penalty killing, so I have seen him penalty kill quite a bit. I wanted to get him involved in the preseason as another option. Due to the absence of Jordan Staal there are going to be more people killing.”

While Rupp hasn’t killed penalties in several seasons, he does have prior PK experience from the season and a half he split between the Phoenix Coyotes and Columbus Blue Jackets from 2004-06.

“It’s something that I have done in the past,” Rupp said. “We have a pretty good PK unit, so I guess it was just a matter of earning the trust from the guys. I would love to have responsibilities like that on special teams. I am happy to get that chance.”

Rupp isn’t surprised that he has had success in the preseason and during Thursday night’s opener against Philadelphia as a penalty killer, because as a defensive-minded player, he has the perfect mindset to succeed in such a role.

“I think I am pretty reliable defensively and with my long reach it’ll benefit me,” Rupp said. “You have to pay attention to what the other team’s tendencies are and just be patient. We force when we can force them to make quick, rash decisions with the puck.”

As far as Rupp standing in front of the net providing a screen on the power play, look for that to continue as well, as Bylsma continues to search for the player who best fills that role.

“We are definitely trying to establish a net-front presence,” Bylsma said. “He obviously adds to that. If you ask our goaltenders who the best one is in practice, they will tell you (No.) 17. He’s there because of that reason.”

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