For a hockey fan, there is arguably no greater feeling than being able to walk out of a hockey arena and into the beautiful 80-degree weather of July. Saturday gave Pittsburgh Penguins fans this opportunity, as the doors of CONSOL Energy Center opened to welcome over 6,000 spectators. The Penguins annual prospect development camp came to a close with a scrimmage between 34 of the best players within the deep pool of the organization's prospective talent. The scrimmage gave Penguins fans their first opportunity to see the players the organization had drafted less than a month earlier at the NHL Draft here in Pittsburgh. Along with the new additions acquired in the Jordan Staal and Zybnek Michalek trades, the development camp also welcomed back players drafted or acquired in the past four seasons and unrestricted free agents looking to sign with a NHL team.
When Jordan Staal was traded to the Carolina Hurricanes, the big deal for the Penguins was the acquisition of Brandon Sutter. Brian Dumoulin was also apart of the dividends of the trade, proving during development camp that his physical defensive play could be a future asset on Penguins blue line. Dumoulin already has NHL size at 6-foot-4 and 210 pounds and came into camp familiar with Pittsburgh's defensive system from watching video of the Penguins with his team at Boston College. Dumoulin physical play was evident in the scrimmage with his ability to defend off the opponent and to be first to retrieve the puck. He also showcased an offensive flair scoring a goal in the three on three overtime period.
Another noticeable player in the scrimmage was Harrison Ruopp, the defensemen acquired from the Phoenix Coyotes in the Zbynek Michalek trade. Ruopp was a player that the Penguins had scouted in 2011, but the Coyotes used the 84th overall pick in last year's draft to acquire the 6-foot-3 205 pound defender. Although Ruopp is known for his nice repertoire of hockey fights on youtube, during an opportunity in the shootout he proved that he can use his hands for more than just dropping the gloves. Although he has the NHL size and the physical nature for the game, he needs to continue to develop his skating and his play with the puck.
A familiar face in the scrimmage for Penguins fans was Simon Despres, the only player coming into the prospect development camp with 18 games of NHL experience. Although Despres held his own in the NHL this season, he came into development camp twenty pounds leaner and ready to build off of a successful first professional season. Despres was a man among boys in the scrimmage using his large size and reach to his advantage. It is very unlikely that Despres will start the season in Pittsburgh, but he will continue to be a reliable option to be recalled from the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins in the case of injuries.
A notable forward in the scrimmage was Matia Marcantuoni, the Penguins 93nd overall fourth round pick in this year's draft. Marcantuoni was originally scouted as being a player that would be taken earlier in the draft, but a shoulder injury with his junior team Kitchener of the Ontario Hockey League made him a steal for the Penguins as a later pick in the draft. Marcantuoni stood out for his noticeable skating speed and his ability to catch breaks in the offensive zone. Marcantuoni also added a goal in the 2nd period.
The Penguins welcomed two first round picks from the 2012 Draft with defenders Derrick Pouliot and Olli Maatta. Unlike Joe Morrow last season who came into prospect development and training camp contending for a roster spot, these two picks will certainly benefit from some required development with their respective junior teams. Pouliot still needs to develop his size as he had the disadvantage of being the smallest defender. He did showcase his breakout style and skating skill set in the scrimmage. Olli Maata as the youngest player at the camp does have the upper hand as a 6-foot-2 and 206 pound defensemen and has the potential to develop into a shutdown defender.
Another interesting player was Andrej Sustr, the unrestricted free agent that was one of three players invited from Nebraska-Omaha of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association. At 224 pounds and 6-foot-7 he showcased his long reach and his ability to use his body to defend along the boards in the scrimmage. Sustr will likely earn an NHL contract and proved that he deserves one. Considering that in Pittsburgh defensemen positions are almost becoming as difficult as goaltending positions to earn, it will likely not be with the Penguins.
The scrimmage brought an end to the week long prospect development camp in Pittsburgh as these 6,000 fans were able to witness the depth of talent that the Penguins will be able to showcase for years to come. Ending off the weekend the biggest notable was the defensive assets that the Penguins are developing and the competition within the organization in earning a position at both the NHL and AHL level. The Penguins arguably have the most competition in this position and many of these assets might eventually translate into trades to acquire top six forwards. The future is bright here in Pittsburgh and as fans exited CONSOL Energy Center I'm sure we can all agree that nothing really beats watching some hockey in July.

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