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Minor league report: Smith stays consistent as goal scorer

Thomas Porter Photographics
Penguins prospect Harrison Ruopp had a team-best 132 penalty minutes for Prince Albert of the WHL this season.

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HARRISON RUOPP

Prince Albert (WHL)

Defenseman, 6-foot, 200 pounds

How acquired: Trade with Phoenix on June 22, 2012

How he's doing: Even after trading Joe Morrow, the Penguins still have plenty of defensive prospects, but none quite like Ruopp. His game is based on snarl, competitiveness and physical play. In his third full season in junior hockey, he posted a goal, 15 assists, a plus-11 rating and a team-best 132 penalty minutes to help Prince Albert to the playoffs. Acquired in the Zbynek Michalek deal, Ruopp has turned 20 and is on track to begin his pro career next fall.

Why he might make it to the NHL: He's an intense, physical defender.

Why he might not: He may not have the mobility and puck skills the Penguins like in defensemen.

'American Coyotes' Series

Traveling by Jeep, boat and foot, Tribune-Review investigative reporter Carl Prine and photojournalist Justin Merriman covered nearly 2,000 miles over two months along the border with Mexico to report on coyotes — the human traffickers who bring illegal immigrants into the United States. Most are Americans working for money and/or drugs. This series reports how their operations have a major impact on life for residents and the environment along the border — and beyond.

Sunday, April 7, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
 

The impact 28-year-old forward Trevor Smith made on NHL ice this season was minimal. He was called up March 22, played 10 minutes in a game against the New York Islanders and was sent back down three days later.

The impact Smith has made on the team's prospects playing in Wilkes-Barre is much more profound. He taught them about the consistency of effort required to be a successful pro.

Having scored 21 times coming into this weekend, Smith has cracked the 20-goal mark in each of his six years in the AHL.

“It's about sticking with it and staying positive,” he said. “It's a long season. You're going to get chances, and you're going to miss chances as well. It's about staying with it and making sure you're still getting those chances.”

Outside of winger Beau Bennett, the Penguins' prospect pool is notoriously shallow up front. Trading college prospects Ben Hanowski of St. Cloud State and Kenny Agostino of Yale for Jarome Iginla subtracts two more forwards who might have made an offensive AHL impact in coming seasons.

Smith (6-1, 195), who can play center and left wing, combines a good shot with strong hockey sense but he also plays with the two-way responsibility the Penguins require from their forwards.

“He's an offensively talented player, but I think that's a real tribute to his consistency,” coach John Hynes said. “To get 20 goals six straight seasons is not only a difficult task, it talks about his ability to be consistent as a high-end offensive player.”

Top scorer

Smith's linemate, right wing Chad Kolarik, has five goals and 13 points in his last 10 games to rank among the top 10 in the AHL this season in both goals (25) and points (59) coming into this weekend. He has nine goals and 24 points in 28 games since the Rangers traded him to the Penguins in January.

Top stopper

Goalie Jeff Zatkoff, who backed up Tomas Vokoun for one game last month while Marc-Andre Fleury was out, heated up upon his return to the AHL. Coming into this weekend, he has allowed two goals in each of his last five starts and leads the AHL with a 1.99 goals-against average.

Junior achievements

Defenseman Derrick Pouliot, generally considered the Penguins' top prospect, returned to the Portland Winterhawks lineup after missing most of the last two months with an ankle injury. He had three goals and six assists in a six-game win over Everett in the first round of the Western Hockey League playoffs.

Another top Penguins prospect, Scott Harrington of the London Knights, missed the first round of the Ontario Hockey League playoffs with an upper-body injury suffered Feb. 24.

He is expected to play in the second round when London faces Whitehall native John Gibson and the Kitchener Rangers. Gibson, an Anaheim prospect, stopped 200 of 208 shots in a five-game win over Guelph.

Jonathan Bombulie has covered the Baby Pens for the Citizens' Voice in Wilkes-Barre since the team's inception in 1999. He can be reached via email at jbombulie@aol.com.

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