It is the end of an era. The 20th and final edition of my Tampa Bay Lightning player evaluations. It’s been one heck of a ride, that’s for sure. Shout out to the folks at Puck77 for helping me get this crazy series started, and a big shout out to the Overtime Heroics folks who helped me keep it going. Two sites, twenty articles, twenty players, hundreds of readers. I cannot even begin to explain how much I loved the support I received from fellow contributors on these pieces, as well as outside readers pitching in with their input. To put this incredible series to rest, we have defenseman Jan Rutta, who was brought in half-way through the season from the Chicago Blackhawks.
Rutta played in 37 National Hockey League games last season, recording 2 goals and 6 assists for 8 points. Of those 37 NHL games, he played 14 with the Lightning, where he recorded 2 assists.
He averaged 14:26 time on ice with the Lightning, and started 50.9% of his shifts in the offensive zone. That wound up being a career-high. With the near 50/50 offensive and defensive deployment in Tampa, Rutta put up a very solid 53.8 corsi-for%, also a career-high.
However, his takeaway to giveaway ratio in his 14 games in Tampa left a lot to be desired. He had 0 takeaways against 7 giveaways. That’s atrociously bad in a 14 game span.
It’s also worrisome that he recorded an above-average PDO (100.0+). For those that don’t know, PDO is ultimately luck quantified and calculated statistically. If a player has over a 100 PDO, that means he was lucky. In Rutta’s case, he was very lucky, recording a 102.7 PDO. For a player to have that much luck, and give the puck away 7 times and take the puck away from the opponent 0 times, is astonishing to me. He also did not produce offensively at a very high rate. That being said, Ruuta’s apparent “luck” didn’t even help him much.
When Rutta was on the ice, the Lightning recorded an expected goals for of 10.3 and an expected goals against of 8.0. That’s an expected plus/minus of +2.3, which marked the first positive expected +/- in his career.
Rutta played with luck on his side and still couldn’t earn a roster spot until late in the season when the Lightning blueliners began to fall with injuries. He also looked way out of place and overwhelmed in the postseason.
Despite all of that, the Lightning decided to bring him back for another season, instead of re-signing seasoned veteran, Dan Girardi. Was there something beyond the basic statistics that general manager Julien BriseBois noticed in Rutta?
Using a spider graph that I created, with data gathered by CJ Turtoro’s A3Z player comparison tool, we can see where Rutta stood with the bottom 4 defensemen on the Lightning last season.
Rutta (yellow) is the worst of the bunch when it comes to generating offence off of his shots (ShotContr60). He also ranks at the bottom with Anton Stralman (green) when it comes to how many shots he takes (Shots60). Finally, he ranks 3rd when it comes to the number of assists he generates off of his shots (ShotAssists60).
He ranks second to last in both entry metrics. One metric looks at the total number of entries he generates (PossEntry60) and the other measures the success rate of Rutta’s entry attempts (PossEntry%). He also ranks second to last in both exit metrics as well (PossExit60, PossExit%).
Rutta ranks last among the bottom 4 defenders on Tampa when it comes to breaking up the opponents’ entry attempts (Breakups60). However, he ranks first in the total amount of entries he allows (PossEntryAllw60) as well as the success rate he has of stopping the opponent from gaining entry into the defensive end (PossEntryAllw%).
What boggles me the most is his struggles breaking out of the defensive end and entering the offensive zone. So, to dive a little deeper, let’s run down to CJ Turtoro’s Exit per 60 minutes visual to get a closer look at Rutta when it comes to breaking out.
Rutta Exiting Statistics
Rutta ranks 6th among seven total Lightning defenders when it comes to breaking out of the defensive end.
The cautious Rutta very, very rarely skates the puck out of the defensive end himself and relies heavily on a breakout pass to a forward. He also doesn’t dump or clear the puck out of the defensive zone very often, which tells me he often looks to make a clean exit rather than throwing it up ice when there isn’t much room to make a play.
Rutta doesn’t ice the puck very often which is good to see. However, for a guy who does not push the pace of play up ice and generates offence, he certainly garners a high volume of fails similar to someone who does push the pace.
He needs to play smarter and more controlled when exiting the defensive end. Rutta must try to turn back how often he fails to get the puck out.
Rutta struggled when it came to entering the zone, based upon our findings in the spider graph. Using CJ Turtoro’s Entries per 60 minute visual, we can see where he went wrong, if at all.
Rutta ranks 6th among seven total Lightning defenders when it comes to entering the offensive zone.
However, I personally take entries, for defensemen that is, with a grain of salt. While you want to have a defender who pushes the puck up ice, it’s truly up to the forwards to be the main point of focus when entering the offensive zone.
Rutta passes it up and into the offensive zone to a teammate just as often as he carries the puck in himself. However, he mainly dumps the puck in deep.
For a bottom pair defenseman, that’s about what you should expect. Despite that, Rutta somehow managed to still have the most entry fails among the seven listed defensemen. That’s egregious to me.
He doesn’t push the pace up ice, and he doesn’t play 20 or so minutes a night. Yet has more entry fails than Victor Hedman and Mikhail Sergachev? That’s a very bad look on Rutta. The fact that he will likely have a consistent role on the bottom pair with Braydon Coburn makes me concerned.
Rutta’s Defensive Game
Rutta’s strongest points on the spider graph came from the defensive side of things. His best metrics were his Breakups60, PossEntryAllw60 and PossEntryAllw%.
To get a better look at his defensive zone play, I use Sean Tierney’s controlling the blueline visual.
Among former Blackhawks teammates and current Lightning teammates, Rutta ranks really well with Break-up%, being top five in that metric. However, he ranks very poorly among teammates in Possession Exit%, arguably bottom five in that metric. Basically, he doesn’t get the puck out cleanly on the breakout. In fact, Rutta is one of the worst at it. But he does a really nice job not allowing the opponents from gaining a clean entry into the defensive end.
Rutta isn’t terrible as a defenseman. But he isn’t very good either. Rutta is an exceptional seventh defenseman that rotates in and out of the bottom pair. But he is not quite a consistent roster player. While he does a nice job defending against the rush, he does not fair well moving the puck at all.
While this is all speculation, the Lightning calling up Callan Foote and deploying him like Erik Cernak is a real possibility. Rutta would play a major role in that process. He could split time early in the year with Coburn and Foote. Once Foote either gets sent down or gets his feet set (pun fully intended) in the NHL, then you can move Rutta around.
Then, when either of those two things happens, he could split time with Coburn and thrive in that position. I personally wanted Rutta to walk in free agency. I felt it would have been better for Dan Girardi or a new face like Foote to step up. However, I have to admit that Rutta gives the Lightning valuable depth if and when Foote makes the jump this upcoming season.
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All stats via Hockey-reference
Spider graphs created by Kyle Pereira, data gathered by CJ Turtoro
Controlling the Blueline visual from Sean Tierney