TAMPA — Jan Rutta had a smile on his face walking into the locker room Saturday night after the Lightning defeated the Capitals 6-3 on home ice.
It’s not surprising.
Since Rutta was called up for the third time this season, he has had to fill in some big holes on the back end with the absence of veteran defensemen Dan Girardi and Anton Strålman.
But since Rutta’s debut in the lineup on March 9 against Detroit, he seems to be fitting in quite seamlessly for coming in at such an intense time of the season. Racking up two points, six shots and an average ice time of 13:32.25 over four games certainly helps, too.
In fact, he actually looks and plays like he’s having fun.
“The team’s really good and we’re winning a lot of games so that always helps,” he said with a chuckle.
When Rutta was called up, Braydon Coburn took him immediately under his wing. The two have been in a defenseman pairing ever since, moving Mikhail Sergachev on the first line with Victor Hedman.
“He’s (Coburn) been helpful since Day 1 I’ve been here,” Rutta said. “He’s telling me what to do on the faceoff, how he wants me to play and he talks to me on the ice, so he makes my game a lot more easier.”
Rutta’s play as of late hasn’t been noticeable ― in a good way. The young defenseman seems to find his way around the ice without missing any crucial plays or calling attention to himself on something that may have gone wrong.
“He’s been steady on the right side there playing with Coby and his battle’s good,” assistant coach Todd Richards said of Rutta. “I think he’s starting to settle in and probably feeling a little bit more comfortable with our systems. So, the role we’ve asked or needed of him, he’s doing a really good job.”
Coburn isn’t Rutta’s only mentor though. Ryan McDonagh has said he’s not afraid to talk to anyone for advice on plays or what to do in certain situations.
“You’re just trying to help him,” McDonagh said. “If he’s got little questions on different play scenarios and like I said there hasn’t been too many questions.”
And Richards agrees.
“The great thing with working with the guys on the back end is No. 1 it’s a great group of guys, but they help each other out,” Richards said. “They’re constantly talking to each other. And I know Coby’s talking to him and helping him and I think just sometimes the dialogue, having dialogue with each other to sort things out helps but I think just having dialogue makes a guy feel comfortable and accepted which makes it easier to go out and play.”
McDonagh said Rutta’s skating abilities have also helped him fit in on the back end and adjusting to the Lightning’s system, which requires quick abilities and decision-making.
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“I think it’s been pretty seamless,” McDonagh said of Rutta’s transition into the group. “I think he’s doing an excellent job and obviously being counted on here and down the stretch with these intense games he’s done really well.”
Rutta’s play as of late has proven quite a bit to Richards, the team and the rest of the coaching staff. It’s not just about his play anymore, it’s how much they truly do trust him on the blue line.
“I’m feeling more confident putting him out,” Richards said. “I’m not necessarily worried about matchups all the time. I trust his game. I trust both he and Coby together that they can go out and play against whoever.”
vs. Coyotes, 7:30 Monday, Amalie Arena
TV/radio: Fox Sports Sun; 970-AM
Contact Mari Faiello at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @faiello_mari.