Penguins management was thrilled to acquire Harrison Ruopp
in the trade that sent Zbynek Michalek to Phoenix at this year’s NHL Draft – especially because they’d nearly drafted him the year before.
“We really, really came close to taking him last year in the second round,” Penguins general manager Ray Shero said. “Our guys really like him.”
It would be the Coyotes who ended up selecting Ruopp, taking him in the third round (84th overall) of the 2011 NHL Draft before he was sent to Pittsburgh on June 22 in exchange for Zbynek Michalek.
Ruopp, a defenseman for the Prince Albert Raiders of the Western Hockey League (WHL) actually found out about the trade via Twitter.
“I was in my gym, which is called Pure Body Conditioning,” Ruopp said of where he was on Day 1 of the 2012 NHL Draft, when the trade went down. “Inside the gym, we don’t have good cell reception. I was in there and we were actually kind of celebrating my friend Ryan Murray getting drafted second overall (Columbus). Once I stepped out of the gym and I got service, my phone was blowing up and vibrating off the hook. Actually, my buddy told me. He was like, ‘you got traded,’ and I was like, ‘really?’ He showed me a tweet.
“Then I had to make some phone calls. But needless to say, I was really excited.”
Ruopp is a big, bruising defenseman (6-foot-3, 205 pounds) who excels on the penalty kill and who emulates himself after a player who made a career out of the physical side of the game – retired blueliner Scott Stevens.
“He was my favorite player,” Ruopp said. “Actually, after he retired was when I kind of didn’t watch as much hockey. … I’ve always liked the physical side of the game and I know he played like that.”
Shero said what the Penguins like most about Ruopp is that physical edge he brings to the ice.
“He’s a big kid that plays an aggressive game and skates well,” Shero said. “His puck skills need to come up a bit, but he plays an aggressive game which adds to the mix to our defense and is important moving forward.”
Something else Ruopp possesses is the will to win. He said the way the Raiders have struggled the past few seasons have taught him how to deal with adversity, and to “really hate to lose.”
Ruopp said his style of play is “definitely more defensive,” adding that it’s “just kind of gritty. I take pride in my compete level and being solid in the D zone.”
But with that being said, Ruopp said he’s adjusting well to the Penguins’ high-tempo, aggressive systems that focus on puck retrievals and quick breakouts this week at prospect development camp.
“They make it really easy for it to become comfortable for you. They’re really good at teaching it to you. It’s been good so far.”
Although Ruopp plans on attending training camp this fall, Shero said the 19-year-old defenseman will need more time in juniors to continue honing his game.
When Ruopp returns to Prince Albert for his fourth season, he plans on embracing his leadership role and any and all opportunities to continue expanding his repertoire of skills.
“This will be my fourth year now, and as I’ve been here my role’s changed – mostly this past year,” he said. “I got a letter on my jersey and I was wearing an A, so I took on a bit more of a leadership role. Playing lots more PK. Then they were actually giving me some power-play time, which is nice. It’s something I’m not used to, but I’ll definitely take advantage of the opportunity when I’m given it.”
He’s learned a lot about his new team during his week here in Pittsburgh, and it’s opened his eyes as to what he needs to do in order to make it at the NHL level.
“Definitely take everything I learned here back home and apply it to my training,” he said. “Definitely have kind of a different mindset going back into it and just keep working hard.”