Bob McKenzie first alluded to it on twitter after the Senators' shootout loss to Montreal last night, the rumblings spread this morning and the Senators made it official shorty after noon, signing free agent defenceman Troy Rutkowski to a three-year contract.
Rutkowski, playing this season as an overager and Captain of the WHL's Portland Winterhawks, was originally a draft pick of the Colorado Avalanche. However, the fifth round selection never signed a contract with his draft team and became an unrestricted free agent.
In his fifth season with the Winterhawks, Rutkowski has put up consistent offensive numbers throughout his junior career. This year has unquestionably been his best, posting a career-high 61 points through 69 games, including his first twenty-goal season, all while leading Portland to the top playoff berth in the WHL's Western Conference. Rutkowski is teammates with top-ranked draft prospect Seth Jones and leads him in scoring as well. Before reading too much into that, it's important to recall Rutkowski is a 20-year-old veteran playing in a teenager's league. Nonetheless, his spike in production is a positive indication of possible growth in his game up to this point and to come.
Beyond the bare-bones facts of Rutkowski's recent seasons and draft pedigree, a few facts can be gleaned from across twitterland after the signing was made official. The best aspect of the 6'2 defender's game is on the offensive side of the puck. His puck movement and slapshot make him a valuable commodity on the powerplay, but as @coreypronman notes, his skating remains a principle weakness in his game. From these limited observations, one could tentatively say Rutkowski best-case projects with the Senators as a 3/4 defenceman with second-unit powerplay duty and some protected offensive zone starts.
Beyond conjecture, Sens fans are going to have to wait to see what the team has in Troy Rutkowski. The Winterhawks will head to the WHL playoffs after the regular season wraps up this weekend. Presumably, once the Portland season concludes, he will join the Binghamton Senators for the rest of their season. Barring some late-season AHL appearances or a push towards the Memorial Cup, Rutkowski could remain a relative unknown until development camps and training camp begin in earnest.
The Senators have an opportunity to garner good value from a player who only costs them a salary and one of 50 spots on the club's depth chart. After trading for Nikita Filatov (today's featured article on Wikipedia), Murray had to deflect several questions from the media regarding the 'risk' involved in the 3rd-for-Filly swap. This time around, Murray will have no trouble reiterating there is absolutely zero risk with this signing. There is only upside. An interesting side-note in that regard, @steffeg noted on Twitter that the Senators currently sit at 53, but thanks to the slide in entry-level contracts for Ceci, Puempel and Noesen, the team is not in violation.
Bryan and Tim Murray have shown an inclination in the past to pursue young free agents, though usually out of college. David Dziurzynski was the latest of this cohort to make his NHL debut with the Senators. Rutkowski is another name on a long list and, one can hope, a good steal by the organization.