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RISING TO THE DEFENSE

Rising to the Defense
By Mike O'Brien

The summer is far from over and there is much to played out over the landscape of the NHL.  Free agency is still in full effect and rosters around the league are sure to change once or twice before pucks drop in October.  As the Pittsburgh Penguins' 2013 Development Camp carries on this week, it seems as though youth will reign as the next generation of defensive prospects prepares to man the blueline for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.  

At the head of the class right now for the Penguins are a pair of 21-year olds who both formerly played for Boston College.  By years of pro experience, Philip Samuelsson is the elder statesmen among the defense corps for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.  Last season, many felt that he was the most improved Penguin player.  A year after being limited to 46 games, Samuelsson saw increases in his points (10), penalty minutes (70), all while leading the team in plus/minus (+10) during his second year of pro hockey.  More importantly, he saw his minutes go up in key situations and became a go-to guy on the penalty kill for Head Coach John Hynes.  It is type of season that Samuelsson will not only be looking to replicate, but also improve upon both on and off the ice.

"I'm excited about the prospect of being a leader on this team and helping the team win every night," Samuelsson said. "There's a lot of guys here in camp who are eligible to play [in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton].  I think it will be a young and talented group."

Though by comparison, Samuelsson is the veteran player, Brian Dumoulin is his senior by 323 days.  The native of Biddeford, Maine brought much promise with him after being acquired from the Carolina Hurricanes on the first night of the 2012 NHL Draft.  He helped lead an Eagles squad that won two NCAA Championships in his three years at the Heights.  Dumoulin rarely looked like a rookie during the 2012-13 season as he finished with 24 points (6g-18a) in 73 games, just one behind his D-partner Dylan Reese for the team lead in defensive scoring.  His play found another gear in the postseason as he compiled eight points (2g-6a) in 15 postseason matches and, like Samuelsson, will again be relied on for quality shifts and a strong presence in the locker room.

"This is my second camp and I'm one of the older guys here," said Dumoulin. "I'm familar with the coaches and I've met a lot of these guys before. I think I've tried to put myself in the leadership role and it's one of the things I think I can provide."

Looking to make the permanent jump to the American Hockey League this coming season is another 21-year old, Reid McNeill.  After three years in the Ontario Hockey League, Reid spent the majority of his rookie season with the Wheeling Nailers of the ECHL, posting six points (2g-4a) and 90 penalty minutes over 44 contests.  McNeill was assigned to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton where he made three appearances over the final weeks of the regular season, but soon came a mainstay for the Penguins in the playoff as he skated in 12 games and picked up his first AHL assist.  

"Going through the playoff run with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and all the ups and downs was a great experience," McNeill said. "I know there's a lot of young guys coming in, but I'm going to focus on my role of being a big, physical shutdown defenseman and put my best foot forward come training camp."

Also in the mix will be Scott Harrington, who, after reaching the Memorial Cup with the London Knights,

joined the Penguins midway through their Eastern Conference Final series versus the Syracuse Crunch.  The 20-year got a taste of playoff hockey and even scored a goal in pro debut in Game 4 at Mohegan Sun Arena.  

At 6-2, 205 lbs, Harrison Ruopp is also a big body you could see on the backline for the Penguins.  A member of the Prince Albert Raiders (WHL) for the last four years, Ruopp totaled three goals, 31 assists and 127 penalty minutes in 214 games for the Raiders. Skating as a "Black Ace" with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton this past Spring, Ruopp has made huge strides in the off-season thus far.  

"He looks like a completely different player," Hynes commented. "He's dropped two percent body since and is looking very fit.   He's a guy who is going to be able to come in, compete and be very tough to play against."

Another college hockey player who might be joining the ranks in defenseman Nick D'Agosinto.  A four-year lettermen at Cornell University, D'Agostino was captain his senior season and led team defensemen in goals (6) and ranked second in points with 17 (6g-11a) in 34 games. 

While the final make-up of the defense is still to be determined, it will be a pack of young guns at the forefront of the defense for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.

"You look at the possibilty of the group we're going to have and it's exciting," he said. "There's a lot of speed to our line-up and more youth than there has been in the past, but that's a good thing because of the draft picks we've had and the kind of talent we have."

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Day 3 of Development Camp commenced with skating drills lead by isntructor Marianne Watkins and was followed by a 3-on-3 round robin competition. 

Penguins staff have been raving about Adam Payerl all week long and he did not disappoint in the 3-on-3.  He is by far one of the strongest players on the ice and it showed in the close quarters of the 3-on-3 play.  Brian Dumoulin threw the body effectively much to enjoyment of the coaches on hand.  Osckar Sundqvist has been flashes in talent early in the week and did so again during the competition.

Goaltender Eric Hartzell looked particularly strong in net, making some clutch in close.  His team ended up victors in the 3-on-3 competition.

The players and assorted staff headed out this afternoon to take part in some paintball and will be back on the ice tomorrow morning as the forwards and defensemen split into separate practice groups.

For photos from Day 3 of Development Camp, click here.  

Wilkes-Barre/Scranton color commentator Mike O'Brien will be providing coverage of the Pittsburgh Penguins 2013 Development Camp through the full scrimmage on Saturday afternoon at CONSOL Energy Center.  Make sure you follow him on Twitter and Facebook  for live updates.

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