TAMPA – Jan Rutta got the call Friday afternoon around lunchtime.
He said the conversation went as those types of phone calls normally do for him, with the Lightning asking him to hop on a plane from Syracuse and fly down to Tampa.
It’s something he has gotten used to over the season, but it’s also something he’s always grateful for.
“It’s great to be here,” he said after Saturday’s morning skate. “It’s a great organization and the team’s doing really well.”
Before the game, Rutta hoped that the transition to playing with the team would allow him to “fit in with the guys” and help the team win.
The 6-foot-3, 200-pound defenseman made his Lightning debut Saturday night against the Red Wings, helping the team to a 3-2 win over Detroit.
With Dan Girardi and Anton Strålman out of the lineup with lower-body injuries, Rutta was needed on the ice this time. He wasn’t just flying up to play the part of a healthy scratch, as he did twice in February.
“I’m really happy I’m here right now,” Rutta said.
The defenseman paired up with Braydon Coburn for the Detroit matchup, logging about nine minutes on the ice over the course of 12 shifts. He made two shots on goal Saturday night, too.
Since his trade on Jan. 11 from Chicago to Tampa Bay, Rutta has been using his time in Syracuse to get better, to build his confidence and to work on the little things.
“I’ve gotten a lot of ice time up there which helps your confidence,” he said. “The coaches are really demanding but want to develop you as well.”
Since he has been training with the Lightning defensemen, he said he has been able to take away some good advice from his teammates.
“In general, it’s nice to be around such a spirited, close group,” he said.
A native of the Czech Republic who played there seven seasons before signing with the Chicago Blackhawks in 2017, Rutta said he’s particularly close with fellow defenseman Erik Černák. Speaking the same language is a huge benefit, he chuckled.
Rutta, 28, also used to play on a national team with Ondřej Palát at one point, giving him a familiar face in the locker room.
“It’s nice to meet him here,” Rutta said. “But everyone’s been really nice to me so far.”
But Rutta’s debut wasn’t just for show. If anything, it proved the depth that this Lightning team possesses should it suffer multiple injuries happen during its playoff run.
Coach Jon Cooper couldn’t have said it better than he did Saturday night following the Lightning’s 3-2 win over the Red Wings.
“Please, take this as a compliment, but I didn’t really notice him much out there,” Cooper said. “Every time he got the puck, he moved it and made the plays he had to make to adapt and he did really, really well.”
Contact Mari Faiello at [email protected]. Follow @faiello_mari.