UPDATE: Smith reports that defenseman Anton Stralman is considered day-to-day with a lower-body injury. It’s not exactly an injury that screams play time for Rutta, so the newly-acquired defenseman is likely up in Tampa Bay as insurance for the time being. In the meantime, he can practice with the team and get the feel for his new teammates and coaches. If Stralman’s absence ends up being longer than expected, perhaps Rutta will make his return to NHL action.
It’s been a long time coming, but the moment is finally here. Defenseman Jan Rutta, acquired from the Chicago Blackhawks in early January, has finally been called up by the Tampa Bay Lightning. The AHL’s Syracuse Crunch, with whom Rutta has played exclusively since the deal was made, were the ones to break the news, but note that GM Julien BriseBois initially announced the move.
Rutta, 28, is in his second NHL season after coming over from the Czech Republic ahead of the 2017-18 season. The big, two-way defender played in 57 games for the Blackhawks last season, notching 20 points, and despite spending the last three months in the minors, has 23 NHL games to his credit this year as well, along with six points. In 26 AHL games this year, eight of which came with the Rockford Ice Hogs, Rutta has twelve points. Since joining the Crunch, Rutta has been a dependable defensive presence for the team and has logged an impressive +15 rating. While it helps that Syracuse is a good team this season with the second-best record in the AHL, Rutta has done enough to show that he can be an NHL asset and perhaps a contributor to a playoff run.
As for why the call-up has finally come, The Athletic’s Joe Smith notes that the timing is a surprise and to his knowledge no Lightning defenders are currently injured. Tampa Bay has had the cap space to recall Ruuta if need be, but lacked the roster space – part of the reason they traded Slater Koekkoek in the first place to acquire Ruuta. However, with the trade deadline passed and roster limits eliminated, Ruuta was free to be recalled. It remains unclear where he fits barring an unreported injury, however. The Lightning have seven defensemen who have played more than 41 games this season already and Ruuta is not about to replace any of them in head coach Jon Cooper’s blue line rotation. Yet, the veteran defenseman is probably content just to be back at the NHL level in a season that has surely not gone as he expected.