The Pittsburgh Penguins are through two weeks of training camp and a few preseason games and are already getting exactly what they signed up for with defenseman Jan Rutta - dependability.
Rutta signed a three-year, $8.25 million contract with the Penguins on the opening day of free agency as part of general manager Ron Hextall's search for size on the blue line. He provides plenty of that, standing at 6'3", but he also brings a steady defensive presence to the bottom pairing.
Not much has been said about the 32-year-old Czechia native during his first camp in Pittsburgh. He has participated in every practice and played two preseason contests without leaving much of a footprint.
To not hear your name in the news as a defensive defenseman is a good thing. That means nobody is beating you badly enough or frequently enough for anyone to notice. Players like Rutta and Brian Dumoulin have built their entire careers around trying to remain unnoticed by announcers and reporters during games.
Rutta figures to play an integral part for this Penguins team this season. He has been deployed on the third pairing with the mercurial Ty Smith since the start of training camp. The Penguins hope the two will complement each other despite their different styles. Smith is the quick-footed offensive defenseman, and Rutta is the steady stay-at-home guy.
Rutta has averaged 15 minutes, 26 seconds of ice time through his two preseason appearances and has been on the ice for 11 scoring chances for and eight against. On Tuesday, the Penguins out-chanced the Red Wings 2-0 when Rutta was on the ice during the Penguins penalty kill.
The penalty kill is an area of focus for Rutta this season. The five-year NHL veteran finished fifth among Tampa Bay Lightning defensemen last season in shorthanded time on ice (90 minutes, nine seconds), despite playing the second most games of anyone on their blue line (76).
With the Penguins trading away John Marino, last season's defensive leader in shorthanded ice time, Rutta will become an everyday penalty-killing option for Penguins assistant coach Mike Vellucci.
While Rutta hasn't been too outspoken during his first Penguins training camp, the two-time Stanley Cup champion did discuss his thoughts on the Penguin's chances at reaching that ultimate goal with Seth Rorabaugh of the Pittsburgh Tribune Review.
"Obviously, the team here, in my eyes, a contender every year," Rutta said. "It's always fun to play hockey into the summer."
The Penguins will need Rutta to play his part to do just that. If he does his job correctly, you won't see him in many highlight videos this season. Rutta will continue to log minutes steadily and quietly, just as he has this preseason. Two weeks into his first season with the Penguins, Rutta is playing his part masterfully.
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