The predominant theme for the Penguins this offseason was continuity. Sticking with the core despite Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang now closer to 40 than 30. Returning capable wings such as Bryan Rust and Rickard Rakell. Bringing back Casey DeSmith instead of shopping for a snazzier complement to Tristan Jarry.
Jan Rutta represents the exception.
A potentially important one, too.
After raising the Stanley Cup in back-to-back seasons with the Lightning, plus reaching the Cup final in 2021-22, Rutta said he pretty much knew a couple of months ago that he would be a cap casualty. Signing with the Penguins for $8.25 million over three years was no-brainer given the perception he had of Pittsburgh and how he saw himself fitting into the lineup.
"The team here is, in my eyes, a contender every year," Rutta said. "It's always fun to play hockey into the summer, so definitely plenty of reasons [to sign with the Penguins]."
While Rutta certainly sees plenty of parallels between the Penguins and Lightning, arguably the NHL's two top teams over the past 10 years, Pittsburgh should crave the skills the 32-year-old native of Pisek, Czechia brought to his former team every night.
A 6-foot-3, 205-pound right shot, Rutta was never drafted — and plays like it, in a good way. He's a willing shot blocker and smart with his stick. Reading a defense partner, like Rutta routinely did with Norris Trophy winner Victor Hedman in Tampa, remains an important strength. Rutta also isn't afraid to throw around his body some.
The sum total isn't terribly flashy, but it could offer a sizable upgrade when it comes to Pittsburgh's third pair and down the revamped right side, bolstering the spot behind Kris Letang and Jeff Petry on the current depth chart.
"He's a solid player," Crosby said of Rutta. "He's got a good stick. He's steady and can make a good first pass. He's not afraid to join the rush."
"You look at Jan Rutta, and he's hard to play against," coach Mike Sullivan added. "He's a real good defender. He's a very good penalty killer. He brings that dimension to our team."