Top 25 under 25, no. 24: Troy Rutkowski
While Troy Rutkowski isn't a well-known prospect right now, the big defender should gain some attention once he turns pro next year.
Troy Rutkowski is a big defenceman who's just wrapped up his final year with the Western Hockey League's Portland Winterhawks in style: He captained his team to a WHL championship. He put up 66P (20G, 46A) in 72 regular season games, plus another 14P (4G, 10A) in 21 playoff games.
Apr 29, 1992
Which raises the question: Why aren't more people talking about this very promising prospect?
Well, for one thing, Rutkowski didn't become an Ottawa Senators prospect until this past March, when he was signed to a three-year entry-level deal. He was a fifth-round pick of the Colorado Avalanche back in 2010, but didn't sign a contract with them and thusly became a free agent last year. Bryan Murray and his team have become quite adept at signing these under-the-radar free agents, and did it again with Rutkowski.
Over five years in the WHL, Rutkowski's demonstrated good offensive instincts which, complemented by his size, will set him up well for the transition to pro hockey. He's also a right-handed defender, which seems like a really positive thing in the NHL for some reason. As one might expect, Rutkowski's best numbers came last year as an overager, and he was tied for 37 in overall scoring and second overall among defencemen. His best attribute, according to various online reports, is his shot from the point.
He'd been in a few fights in his WHL career, but didn't make a habit of it. Although Hockey's Future's somewhat outdated talent analysis says he's a physical player, I don't think there's reason to expect him to be a bruiser out there; he's an offensively-oriented guy, and that'll likely continue in pro.
Here are some words about Rutkowski from folks who've watched him play...
... and some stuff from "WHL guru" Mike Remmerde, via Bruins 2010 Draft Watch (yes, a blog entirely devoted to the Bruins' affairs at the 2010 NHL Entry Draft), which tells you a bit about why he fell to the fifth round in 2010 (keep in mind that these comments were made more than three years ago):
"He's been very frustrating. He's gone from someone I saw as a solid second-round pick and lottery-ticket type of selection because of his upside to a guy I think could fall in June because he simply hasn't produced the offense or played to his capabilities since getting off to a very good start in October.
"He's improved his defensive game, which is good, but he's far too talented a player to not be doing more on the offensive end, and that's why I've had to downgrade him a bit. He went from being so good (at age 16 and in the first month of the 09-10 season) as a puck-rushing, power play specialist to someone who has shown very little of that offensive skill which made him such an attractive player for me when I saw him last year."
I find it interesting that he was considered a potential first-round option for teams in 2010, but fell to the fifth due to inconsistency and other issues (for instance, questions about his conditioning were mentioned). He seems like he could be a classic late bloomer, which is pretty common among defenceman.
For next season, Rutkowski will battle with Cody Ceci to be the top offensive right defenceman on what will be a pretty impressive Binghamton Senators blue line. Rutkowski's older and has more experience, but Ceci has more pedigree--we'll see what happens in the short term, but the expectation is that Ceci will turn into a better player eventually. Although Rutkowski could perhaps become a mid-pairing defenceman in the NHL (he might look good alongside Patrick Wiercioch, for instance), a more realistic scenario casts him as a bottom-pairing NHL defenceman who would see some powerplay time. He won't likely be competing for an NHL spot until the 2014-15 season at the earliest, but he could definitely do himself some favours with a strong camp this year.