The Tampa Bay Lightning apparently liked what they saw in Jan Rutta down the stretch, as they have re-signed him to a one-year contract worth $1.3MM. Rutta was scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent this summer.
Rutta, 28, signed a one-year entry-level deal with the Chicago Blackhawks in 2017 after developing into a top player in the Czech Republic, and ended up playing 57 games with them that season. The right-handed defenseman impressed the Blackhawks enough to earn himself a new contract worth $2.25MM for this season, but after bouncing up and down between the NHL and AHL, Chicago decided to flip Rutta to the Lightning in exchange for Slater Koekkoek and a draft pick upgrade. The fact that Rutta had cleared waivers just a month earlier made it an interesting deal for the Lightning, who could then use Rutta as some injury insurance without risking him to the rest of the league again.
Rutta ended up playing 14 games for the Lightning and 18 games for the Syracuse Crunch, but immediately seemed to fit in well with Tampa Bay’s fast, skilled style. Though he brings some size at 6’3″, the Czech defenseman’s game isn’t overly physical. He can however move the puck quickly and effectively, something that head coach Jon Cooper values. You could tell how much he trusted Rutta when the playoffs swung around and the defenseman was slotted in for all four games as the team dealt with injuries. That trust was rewarded today in the form of this new contract, which should result in some regular playing time next season.
The Lightning have several other defenders scheduled to hit unrestricted free agency this summer as the contracts of Anton Stralman, Dan Girardi and Braydon Coburn are all set to expire. Rutta’s handedness is one of his most valuable assets given the depth that Tampa Bay has on the right side, and he should step into a full-time role if Girardi or Stralman aren’t retained.