Tag Archives: Chad Ruhwedel

Ruhwedel Making Most of Opportunity

A seventh defenseman in hockey is a lot like a backup quarterback in football. You may see hardly any action at all. You may play a vast majority of the games if your team suffers a horrible injury at the position. For Chad Ruhwedel, this uncertainty hasn’t bothered him in the least.

After Ian Cole took that gruesome puck to the mouth, Ruhwedel was inserted into the lineup as the team needed reinforcements on defense. He played a few games and just as Cole was ready to come back and Ruhwedel was bound to depart back to the press box, Matt Hunwick was diagnosed with a concussion.

Ruhwedel has played in seven contests this season. He has an assist and is even on the year. To the common eye, those stats are below average. To the hockey eye, those stats mean little if you watch him play.

In hockey, a defensemen’s job is to shut down his opponent from getting quality chances on the goaltender. Ruhwedel does just that. They’re also expected to pitch in offensively. Ruhwedel’s numbers are not eye popping. But, he doesn’t hold on to the puck too long and always seems to make the right decision.

In the past two games, Ruhwedel has made some really quality passes.

In the blowout against Tampa Bay Saturday night, Ruhwedel made a beautiful pass from his zone all the way up to Bryan Rust who got in alone on Andrei Vasilevskiy but couldn’t finish. Tuesday night in the big overtime victory against Edmonton, Ruhwedel was being closed in on by two defenders and pushed the puck up to Phil Kessel who found Evgeni Malkin on a two-on-one who went back to Kessel and couldn’t bury the puck to add an assist to Ruhwedel’s totals.

As I’m watching Ruhwedel, it’s easy to see that confidence exudes from him. He isn’t timid like former Penguins’ defenseman Derrick Pouliot. He makes a decision and sticks to it. There’s no second guessing. He’s right pretty much every time, too.

He’s a guy who has high offensive instincts. His scoring totals don’t show that with only 13 points in 74 games, but he has a “get the puck on net” mentality. That is something head coach Mike Sullivan highly respects.

Last season was a real turning point for Ruhwedel. In 34 games, Ruhwedel had his only two career goals and totaled 10 points. He was given the opportunity after a myriad of injuries. He turned it into a solidified spot on the Penguins roster and a two year extension at an AAV of $650,000. That’s a steal for the Penguins.

The 27-year old’s 34 games last season were a career high. He’s never been given a real shot at the NHL level and was a perennial AHL top-pair defenseman in his Buffalo days.

Justin Schultz was concussed on Tuesday night which is a bad sign for the Penguins. It’s music to Ruhwedel’s ears. Hunwick began skating Tuesday morning and could return as soon as Thursday if all goes well. One would expect Schultz to at least miss Thursday.

I’d go as far as saying that I’d like to see Ruhwedel be a top-six defenseman on the team. I wasn’t super impressed with Hunwick’s play in his couple games with the Penguins. Of course, that means virtually nothing with the small sample size he’s had.

There is value to be had in Ruhwedel, however, and if the Penguins feel he can outperform a guy like Hunwick, they could move him later. They could always use the cap relief especially after acquiring Riley Sheahan and his $2.075 million contract. Hunwick makes $2.250 million.

This is no suggestion that he’ll beat out Hunwick at any point in the year. It is merely just a point the Penguins may consider. Ruhwedel is a potential top-6 defenseman who happens to have the “seventh defenseman” role on a deep defense. If they do get healthy on defense and Ruhwedel becomes a press box guy again, don’t be shocked if they sprinkle him in to givestruggling defensemen a breather.

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Odd Men Out

The Pittsburgh Penguins have a log-jam on defense. As of July 26, just over two months until the 2017-2018 season begins, the Penguins currently have 9 defensemen that could possibly make the roster come October. This begs the question, which defensemen will be left off the team and which will be the odd men out?

The Keepers

To me, there are four defensemen that are absolute locks to be here and playing at the start of the season; Kris Letang, Brian Dumoulin, Justin Schultz, and Ian Cole. Leaving Olli Maatta off this list is somewhat controversial sure but we’ll get to him later. Besides Maatta, this leaves Frank Corrado, Matt Hunwick, Chad Ruhwedel, and Derrick Pouliot all fighting for the remaining three spots.

The Unlikely

It would seem as though that the struggling Corrado and journeyman Chad Ruhwedel are destined to start in the AHL next season. Despite General Manager Jim Rutherford‘s high praise for Ruhwedel at the beginning of free agency, it seems as though the signing of Matt Hunwick has made him more of a depth defensemen than a top 6 guy. Hunwick is known to struggle, though, and has been driving Toronto fans nuts for years; so if he does start to flounder, or the inevitable injury to a defensemen happens, expect Ruhwedel to be the first guy up. Corrado on the other hand…well, who really knows. It seems as if he’s been forgotten over the past few months as free agency continues. Unless he stuns the coaching staff and GM in the preseason, Corrado will probably be heading to Wilkes-Barre for a majority of the season.

Three Men, Two Spots

This leaves us with Olli Maatta, Derrick Pouliot and Matt Hunwick, all fighting for the two spots that remain. As I’ve said about Hunwick, I do expect to see him on opening night, that may be in the press box or on the ice, but I just think that Rutherford would not give a three-year deal with an AAV of $2.25 million to someone just to be banished to the minors. Now, if Olli Maatta is still a Penguin by October, then there is absolutely no doubt that he will be starting. Maatta’s game went from amazing to disastrous after a slew of injuries stunted his development. Maatta’s mistakes stand out due to his lack of speed. However, when he’s not getting burned, he is still an outstanding defensemen. Maatta really has transformed his game to become a more complete NHL defensemen since his rookie season, but his speed is still something that plagues him. I personally do not want the Penguins to trade Olli Maatta. He is a great defensemen with a bright future ahead of him. That being said, when looking at the void at third line center and the excess that the Pens have on D…if Rutherford wanted to make a splash and trade for a big name, (which he does not have to), Maatta would almost have to be going the other way.  Finally there is the never-ending conundrum that is Derrick Pouliot. The Pen’s best defensive prospect has struggled ever since he stunned Pittsburgh by scoring his first goal on his first shot. Reported attitude problems and losing the ability to quickly move the puck seemingly overnight have made Pouliot spend a majority of his career in the AHL, despite his overwhelming potential. However, in an interview with The Trib, Rutherford said, “Pouliot finished the season real strong.  We feel he’s going to come in and play,” However, if the Pens were to keep Maatta, then the top 6 would include Letang, Schultz, Dumoulin, Maatta, Cole, and Hunwick. I don’t see where Pouliot fits in. I think the kid deserves a shot and also think that he is probably better than Matt Hunwick is, but again Hunwick’s contract makes it hard for me to think that he’ll be sitting many games. To be quite frank, I do not know what the Pens will do with Pouliot if this same roster is intact. Maybe he’s traded, maybe he spends time at practice and in the press box, maybe he takes Hunwick’s spot, or maybe he’s forced to spend yet another season in Wilkes-Barre.

Only time can tell what will happen to the Penguins Defense come October. No matter what does happen, a healthy Kris Letang makes the Pens defense one to reckon with next year.

Offseason Player Grades: Chad Ruhwedel

Statistics (Regular Season)

34 GP, 2 G, 8 A, 10 PTS, +9 +/-, 8 PIM

Statistics (Postseason)

6 GP, 0 G, 0 A, 0 PTS, -3 +/-, 4 PIM

Player Grade (B-)

Chad Ruhwedel was a guy who many would have presumed would not play a game in the NHL for the Penguins this year, but due to injuries and players such as Pouliot not working out how the Penguins would have hoped, Ruhwedel got some playing time, and even played 34 games.  After we was called up he actually earned his right to stay in the lineup until his play dictated otherwise.  He was a great temporary fill-in, but once Maatta and Daley healed up, that was about it for Ruhwedel.

Review

Ruhwedel notched 2 goals along with 8 assists, notching 10 total points in 34 regular season games.  He played in 6 playoff games, but had no points and was a -4 in those games.  Ruhwedel did, however, score a very important goal in the Penguins’ outdoor game against the Flyers, extending their lead to 4-2 in order to give the Penguins the win at Heinz Field.

Preview

Ruhwedel is a free agent going into the offseason.  I am sure the Penguins would love to bring him back as a 7th/8th defenseman, but that also assumes that another team is not willing to reach out to him and overpay him as maybe a 6th defenseman.  I do not think he is a priority for GMJR, but the Penguins will be slim on defense next season, unless Rutherford makes some moves.  Ruhwedel would be great to bring back as long as he is willing to take a cheap 2-way contract.

Conclusion

Ruhwedel ultimately did his job.  He probably was not expected to play much, but when he did, he was solid.  He skates well, moves the puck pretty well, and fits the Penguins’ system.  He is not a guy that should be in the lineup every night, but would be a great depth guy for the Penguins to keep around.

Free Agency Day 1: Pens Edition

The Penguins decided to go depth defensemen heavy in day one of free agency, as they were expected to do all along. The major surprise that no one expected was bringing 2016 ‘GM of the Year’ Jim Rutherford back for three more seasons at the decision making helm of the Penguins. The Penguins also expectedly brought back Jacques Martin who worked magical wonders on the Penguins’ defense core. Below, I will analyze the resignings, subtractions, and additions for the Pens on day one.

Resigned

  • GM Jim Rutherford: 3-years
  • Assistant Jacques Martin: 2-years
  • LW Tom Sestito: 1-year, $575,000
  • D Steven Oleksy: 1-year, $575,000
  • D David Warsofsky: 1-year, $575,000

Three league minimum returns and a GM of the Year coming back for another three seasons? You can’t ask for a lot more from a team up against the salary cap.

Rutherford’s contributions have done nothing but solidify his aspirations to continue being the Pens’ GM heading into the future. It does sort of cloud whether or not Billy Guerin or Jason Botterill will ever get their chance to become the Pens’ head personnel decision maker or if they will seek an opportunity with another team.

Sestito’s contract extension is one that I’m not going to argue with. We saw his impact last season if the team felt they needed that gritty, enforcing presence to keep players off of guys like Crosby and Malkin. As DK on Pittsburgh Sports’ Josh Yohe tweeted earlier, Sestito “knows his role” and “87&71 love him”.

On the defensive front, the Penguins resigned Steven Oleksy, who I’m going to go ahead and project as the Pens seventh-defenseman going into this season. He was called up and sent down throughout the season and never actually saw a game. He’s a big, physical defenseman and the Penguins knew his services could very well be needed defensively.

Warsofsky resigning probably means he will be a very depth kind of guy, probably 9th or 10th on the depth chart. He played a little throughout last season until he was concussed when referee Tim Peel had tripped and fell sliding across the ice and accidentally undercut Warsofsky who missed most of the entirety of the season after that. The undersized defenseman isn’t a huge threat to do a lot offensively but has good defensive instinct and can skate well. He should spend most of next season in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.

Additions

  • D Stuart Percy: 1-year, $575,000
  • D Cameron Gaunce: 1-year, $575,000
  • D Chad Ruhwedel: 1-year, $575,000

I’m really happy about these signings by Rutherford, especially Percy.

Percy has only played twelve NHL games and has three points. He’s your average sized defenseman at 6’0″, 193 lbs. He is the type of offensive guy who has great defensive instinct. Scouts say he has great hockey instinct and sees the game very well. He is very confident with the puck and moves it as good as anyone. He’s still a bit slow with his feet. But if he can get them underneath of him, he can generate the turn around that Seth Rorabaugh eludes to in the above tweet.

Cameron Gaunce is someone I’ve never even heard of. With twenty games of NHL experience for the Dallas Stars and Colorado Avalanche, Gaunce has one career point in the league. He has played 310 games in his AHL career. The former second rounder is an average sized defenseman who had a career high of 37 points this past season with the Portland Pirates. He hasn’t been a minus-rated player since the 2012-13 season, but he does take a lot of penalties. Just two seasons ago, he had a career high in PIMS at 113. You can bet he will be an interesting option throughout the AHL, but I doubt he will crack the Pens roster at any point this season.

Ruhwedel is someone the Penguins may see if more than one injury occurs on the blue line. With only 32 games under his NHL belt, Ruhwedel has always been a product of a terrible defensive core in Buffalo and in their AHL system in Rochester. He’s pretty much been a minus player his entire career but played on horrible teams. He’s a disciplined player as 26 PIMS is the most he’s ever had in one season. I think Ruhwedel, like Percy, is a candidate to become someone the Penguins can look to maybe reshape as he’s only 26 years old.

Subtractions

  • G Jeff Zatkoff: 2-years, $1.8 million with Los Angeles Kings
  • D Ben Lovejoy: 3-years, $8.3 million with New Jersey Devils
  • RW Beau Bennett: 1-year, $725,000 with New Jersey Devils

Zatkoff will be missed as a locker room presence in Pittsburgh, but not at the expense of keeping Marc-Andre Fleury and Matt Murray around. Zatkoff had a little bit of a less successful season than he did a few seasons ago where he posted a 12-6-1 record. His stats were a little worse this season but he still provided the Pens a game one victory against the New York Rangers in round one that helped clinch it in five games. Zatkoff will return to he franchise that once drafted him and helped him on his feet to become an NHL backup goaltender. It looks as though he and Jonathon Quick will form an all-American combo in Los Angeles.

Reverend Lovejoy is a nice addition for the New Jersey Devils. Of course, Ray Shero enjoys taking Penguins players when they come available. He claimed Bobby Farnham earlier this season, as well. Lovejoy was under scrutiny quite often throughout the regular season as it began more and more to look like he wasn’t a fit for the Pens offense. He turned it on in the playoffs, when it matters most, and was rewarded for doing so. He became unattainable for the Penguins after the solid playoff run. He’ll hope to be part of the Devils’ turnaround into a potential playoff contender starting this season.

Yet another Penguin Shero took, this time through trade, is Beau Bennett. When the Penguins traded Bennett to the Devils for their third round selection, they selected defenseman Connor Hall with the realization that Bennett’s services on the team were limited. Shero went ahead and jumped to reacquire a player he drafted during his tenure as Penguins’ GM. Bennett finally began coming into his own and playing top line minutes until he broke his shoulder on a hit from Washinton Capitals forward TJ Oshie. Bennett will be an immediate help for New Jersey as Connor Hall may eventually impact the Penguins’ defensive corps.

Undecided

  • D Justin Schultz
  • C Matt Cullen

Schultz being available after day one is really baffling to me.

Many teams are coveting right-handed, puck moving defenseman and that’s exactly what Justin Schultz brings to your team.

One minus is that he played for the Edmonton Oilers and usually players from Edmonton, especially on the defensive end, are usually frowned upon because of how awful the Oilers are at developing their defenseman. But once he got playing time in Pittsburgh, he proved he was more than a capable option. Depending on what Schultz is commanding on the market, that could be a reason he’s not signed to a team. Or maybe he wants to resign with the Penguins and they promised him they would clear cap space to be able to resign him.

With Derrick Pouliot waiting in the wings, I don’t expect Schultz to be back in the lineup next season. But I’m very surprised that on July 2, Schultz is still available.

The Penguins’ limited amount of cap space may allow them to resign Matt Cullen for the right term. A similar 1-year, $800,000 term would be nice but not absolutely necessary.

With Oskar Sundqvist awaiting a potential full-time gig in the NHL and possible reports of Cullen reuniting with the Minnesota Wild, maybe it’s time the Penguins move on from “Team Dad”.

I’m as big of a fan as the next guy, but Cullen provided 16 regular season goals and played over 100 total games as a 39-year old (soon to be 40 in November) and likely won’t be able to repeat that sustained level of success into this season.

After a busy day one, the Penguins team seems pretty set going forward.