Rangers prospect Ryan Gropp didn't sulk when he was sent back to Seattle of the Western Hockey League in early October.
Rather the 2015 second round pick used the disappointment as a positive opportunity to round out his game and become more of a complete player than just an offensive threat.
"I think obviously I didn't really want to dwell on it too much and just kind of pout and things like that," Gropp to NYRangers.com in a phone interview Wednesday. "I wanted to make sure I took everything with a positive mind. I look at it as a chance to work on my game and be a guy that's relied upon in all situations, playing more, playing on the power play and the penalty kill and round out my game and be more of a complete player. I think I'm really doing that this season. It's been a huge positive for me to come back and do that, play in all situations and I think that's really going to benefit me in the long run."
Gropp is playing the best hockey of his season and possibly of his junior career. He's riding a 10-game point streak during which he's scored eight goals - including a hat trick - and 12 assists for 20 points. The 20-year-old scored a goal and three assists Wednesday night in Seattle's 5-4 win over Victoria.
Overall, Gropp is tied for Seattle's lead in goals with 19 and is second in assists with 31. His 50 points in 47 games leads the Thunderbirds this season.
While Gropp is an offensive player and the numbers are strong, he and his head coach, former NHLer Steve Konowalchuk, said this season has also been about further developing his play away from the puck.
Konowalchuk, who played 790 games in the NHL, said for Gropp to have success at higher levels of hockey, he needs to be a player a coach can rely on in all different situations.
"I think most of the guys in the NHL were top scorers in their junior or wherever they played, but they have to learn to do everything to become even a third or fourth line guy at the NHL level," Konowalchuk said. "Some kids figure that out and buy in and become good pros and have long careers, and other guys they think want to believe they're going to be just a pure offensive guy and the career path slips by because they're not committed to blocking shots, committed to crashing the net to get goals and compete and finish checks and take hits."
Konowalchuk said Gropp has made strides over the last two seasons to become a better defensive winger and has bought into being a penalty killer and a shot blocker, and the improvements have been noticeable.
"The work away from the puck has really improved," the coach said. "He's where he needs to be in the D zone, he's backchecking hard and he's stripping some pucks. Those are areas that he's definitely improved on."
Gropp said he also felt he's become more of a reliable player this season, and he's taken pride in being a player that helps more on the defensive side of the puck just as much as the offensive.
"I think it's been really positive for me," Gropp said. "I think I've become more of a reliable player defensively and more of a 200-foot guy. I think I've really grown a lot in that area this season, especially on the penalty kill. I've been doing that quite a bit. Just being good in my own zone and not cheating for offense and things like that."
Konowalchuk praised Gropp for being a leader on a Thunderbirds team that currently sits third in the WHL's Western Conference at 33-15-3-2. While he may not be the loudest player in the room, the coach said he's a player that sets a good example for his teammates on the ice.
"He's a quiet guy that goes about his business by himself, but right now he's leading by example," Konowalchuk said, citing his commitment to blocking shots. "When you see a guy like that … that's definitely leading by example."
Video: NYR@NJD: Gilmour nets Groop's nifty feed to tie game
Gropp got a taste of the NHL last fall when he dressed for a Rangers preseason game against New Jersey in which he finished with an assist. The Kamloops, B.C.-native said he felt he progressed as camp went on and his performance in that game left him with a positive attitude when he was cut.
"I think I had a really strong finish to camp and even in practice," Gropp said. "I thought I was playing really well. It was huge for me to see what it was like [to play in a game]. I think I held my own for sure and I know I can play with those guys. It shows me the harder I work hopefully I can make it the step to the next level.
Photo by Brian Liesse/Seattle Thunderbirds