Player: Jan Rutta
Born: July 29, 1990 (32 years old)
Weight: 203 pounds
Hometown: Pisek, Czechia
2022-23 Statistics: 56 games played, three goals, six assists, nine points, 30 penalty minutes
Contract Status: Rutta is under contract with the Penguins through the 2024-25 season with a $2.75 million cap hit
Fun fact: Rutta averaged 17:07 time on ice per game in 2022-23, the most for him since his rookie season in Chicago in 2017-18.
Hidden Stat: He didn’t score much, but when he did it was usually early on: two of Rutta’s three goals scored this season were the opening goal of the game.
Monthly Splits and story of the season
Rutta was peaking in mid-January, growing in his role month-by-month as he acclimated to his new team, gaining more ice time and improving on his hits and shots and shot blocks as the season advanced.
That unfortunately would come to an end, after appearing in all of the team’s first 42 games to start the season, Rutta was knocked out of the lineup for 15 of the next 16 games starting on January 16th. Rutta returned in late-February, but after 11 games back was knocked out for another 10 games with a knee injury after being struck by a puck while blocking a shot. After coming back from that for the stretch run, Rutta appeared in three more games before being a scratch in the season finale. Shortly after the Pens’ season ended, it was announced Rutta underwent surgery to repair a core muscle.
Rutta scored eight of his nine points on the season prior to his initial injury in the first half of the season. While he was trending up to be a 19-20 minute per game player in December and January, that was out the window as a barely used and sheltered third pair player for the handful of games he was able to appear in in the second half of the season.
Such was the risk the Pens took signing a 32-year old defender last summer, who plays a defensive style that is not easy on the body and has to endure a lot of abuse. Rutta’s season ended up getting knocked off track, limiting the amount he could contribute to the team.
Regular season 5v5 advanced stats
Data via Natural Stat Trick. The ranking is out of eight defensemen who qualified by playing at least 150 minutes.
Corsi For%: 49.0 (8th)
Goals For%: 46.7 (6th)
xGF%: 50.3 (7th)
Scoring Chance %: 48.3 (8th)
High Danger Scoring Chance%: 50.6 (8th)
5v5 on-ice shooting%: 7.1 (5th)
On-ice save%: .923 (3rd)
Goals/60: 0.22 (2nd)
Assist/60: 0.37 (8th)
Points/60: 0.60 (t-6th)
Jan Rutta is never going to shine on advanced stats, but there’s context that goes beyond the raw numbers. Rutta’s offensive zone starts were lowest among Penguin defender, so naturally he is not in a position to do well on scoring chances or expected goals. Players like Rutta need to take the slings and arrows and “get the game back” to the stars, as Kyle Dubas said. Rutta did a reasonable job of treading water and doing that.
Rutta has been pretty steady for what he is: a third pair player who can have a nice defensive impact and take a PK shift, but not provide too much extra.
As the season advanced, coach Mike Sullivan started working in more and more of Brian Dumoulin and Rutta as an attempted “shutdown” pair. The results were disastrous, and the Pens arguably stuck with that experiment longer than they should have (though some of that was by design due to the absence of Kris Letang and/or Jeff Petry at times early in the season, leading to a lack of quality defenders).
Still, Dumoulin-Rutta wasn’t it.
As a third pair defensive defender, Rutta’s best traits are denying opponent’s zone entries, and retrieving the puck. Pretty standard stuff. His puck skills are very limited, aside from the random goal popping in from point shots from time to time.
Despite the tough starts, the expected goals against for Rutta on the ice weren’t terrible for the Pens this season. He kept it moving for the most part.
In perhaps the lone good moment of the 2023 Pens Dad’s trip, Jan Rutta’s pops was moved by the tribute the Lightning gave to the 2x Cup winner.
Jan Rutta makes it count!— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) October 20, 2022
The Penguins first shot of the game = the Penguins first goal of the game pic.twitter.com/trMrrGuxmg
Some fans may have been expecting something more along the lines of a physical, aggressive player like Radko Gudas when the Pens signed Jan Rutta last year. While having impressive size, that type of game isn’t Rutta’s style, who is more based on positioning and using his body as a shield to block the puck than deliver crushing hits. Rutta came with championship pedigree, having been on the Lightning for two championships and three Stanley Cup Final runs in the previous three seasons to this one, even as an occasional spot-partner for Victor Hedman.
But there wasn’t much magic that traveled with Rutta to his new team. He was serviceable and at times (especially in the first half of the season) was carrying out his role as a lower pair role player to a T. The second half of the year was a frustrating journey of injuries and decreasing ability to contribute to the team and derailed any chance at a happy finish for the individual or the team.
Looking ahead to an ideal 2023-24
Rutta is in an interesting spot now that the general manager who signed him to Pittsburgh is gone. The Pens have potential internal replacement candidates for Rutta’s lineup spot in the form of Ty Smith, Chad Ruhwedel and Mark Friedman for next season. The new GM will surely be looking to freshen up and change the team, and among the top places to replace might begin with a veteran defensive defenseman that doesn’t move the needle too much.
Then again, especially with Brian Dumoulin believed to be moving on, the Pens do not have many “defense first” type of role players around either who can capably kill penalties and log some of the heavy minutes. Rutta’s salary or term isn’t unmoveable if Kyle Dubas wants to explore going in a different direction, but it’s also not so burdensome that it doesn’t fit the team to hang onto Rutta in a third pair role and let him play out the second season of his three year contract.
As it almost always is for players on the fringes of the lineup, Rutta’s professional future is uncertain and hangs in the balance of what decision makers want to do. His contract ensures he will be playing somewhere in the NHL next season, but it remains to be seen if the new regime in Pittsburgh will want that to be with the Pens.
The absolute best case scenario for Rutta would be sticking in Pittsburgh, staying healthier than 2023-24, playing 18-19 minutes per game, helping out on the PK and continuing to make a very positive defensive impact for the team, possibly as a veteran mentor to a player like Smith or P.O. Joseph as a potential third pairing. But at soon-to-be 33-years old and with some daunting-sounding injuries mounting, a best case scenario doesn’t sound like very likely outcome in this situation.
How would you grade Jan Rutta’s 2022-23 season?
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