Like most hockey fans, Harrison Ruopp watched the Pittsburgh Penguins in the playoffs, excited to watch the team compete for the Stanley Cup.
Unlike most hockey fans, Ruopp will soon get the chance to join in the chase for the next Cup.
“It's very exciting to think of that,” Ruopp says with a knowing laugh. “Just to have the opportunity with the Penguins, it's a dream come true and something I would definitely want to do in the future.”
Ruopp returns to Pittsburgh for the second time this week as a player to take part in the Penguins Prospect Development Camp. You will immediately notice him as one of the largest players at camp, cutting a 6-foot-3, 205-pound frame on the ice at CONSOL Energy Center.
Opponents across the Western Hockey League are certainly well acquainted with Ruopp’s punishing defensive play. The 20-year-old defenseman is not expected to tally up points, scoring just one goal in 65 games for the WHL’s Prince Albert Raiders last season. Ruopp led the Raiders with 132 penalty minutes, a byproduct of a physical style that he will try to use in a smarter way.
“I want to utilize my strengths and I feel that I'm strong defensively,” Ruopp said. “Just making simple plays and playing a simple, hard-working game."
Ruopp’s hard work since last year’s camp earned him a cup of postseason hockey this spring, joining the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins’ taxi squad for the AHL playoffs. Less than one year after joining the organization from the Phoenix Coyotes as part of the Zbynek Michalek trade last June, Ruopp signed a three-year entry-level contract with Pittsburgh.
Moving on from his teenage years means it’s time to graduate from the WHL, and Ruopp has been working on his off-ice fitness and nutrition habits in order to be ready for professional hockey. He knows Development Camp represents a prime opportunity to impress Penguins’ decision-makers on his journey to the National Hockey League.
"I definitely have higher expectations for myself. I always make it a point to try to constantly improve,” Ruopp said. “I like to set my goals high, (but) wherever they feel I deserve to play, I'll fill my role."
He says when his time with the Penguins comes, fans will see a hard-working player, an exciting one, but ultimately one who plays a very solid and simple defensive game.
Development Camp is a time for fun, and Ruopp is looking forward to both getting on the ice as well as reuniting with fellow campers from last year, meeting the new prospects and enjoying the off-ice activities like paintball.
Development Camp is also a time to think about the future. Ruopp can think about returning to Pittsburgh soon, holding a one-way ticket.
“From what I saw of the city, it's a very beautiful place,” Ruopp said. “Somewhere I could definitely get used to living in the future."