The Tampa Bay Lightning finally traded defenseman Slater Koekkoek so he can get a fresh start and some playing time with another team, which just happens to be the Chicago Blackhawks. The two teams also swapped 2019 Draft picks with the Bolts getting a seventh round pick and the Blackhawks getting a fifth round pick.
The 24-year-old has been a healthy scratch for most of the season, and only played in nine games so far this year. In those nine games, he has one goal while averaging 14:20 of ice time per game. Koekkoek was relegated to third pairing duties when he actually managed to get into a game. He became the team’s eighth defenseman on the defensive chart with the emergence of Erik Cernak in training camp.
Koekkoek is a mobile defenseman who can move the puck. He would be an option for the Blackhawks’ power play should they need one since he can move the puck with ease. One of his best assets is probably his ability to move the puck and make that stretch pass out of his own zone. The defenseman does need to work on his defensive coverage and improve his play without the puck, but if he can manage to see some ice time this could be the fresh start that he needs to prove himself.
He will be a restricted free agent at the end of the season. The Blackhawks can either try to reach a deal with him or not qualify him and then he would become a free agent in the summer. He will likely see some ice time with the Blackhawks since they will probably want to see what he brings to the table before deciding on if he is in the team’s future plans.
In return the Lightning are getting a 28-year-old defenseman who is struggling in his own right. Jan Rutta started the season with the Blackhawks but struggled a bit after having a good rookie campaign so he has been with the Rockford IceHogs of the AHL since December 14, 2018. In 23 games in the NHL this season, he only had two goals, four assists and six points while averaging 16:18 of ice time per game.
The Bolts are getting an older player with some NHL experience, who can be readily called up from the minors should someone get hurt and be out for an extended period of time. Rutta has played 80 games over the past two seasons and has eight goals, 18 assists and 26 points. He had a good rookie season, but then his play dropped off and he became a healthy scratch.
The Lightning are getting a player that has some size. He can be used on the power play since he has a good shot. Rutta can move the puck and contribute in the offensive zone. His defensive game needs some work but he may still be adjusting to the North American style of the game since he played most of his career overseas. If the Lightning decide to assign him to the Syracuse Crunch they would still be on the hook for $1.225 million of his salary counting towards the cap.
This was another minor trade that made sense for both teams. The Bolts now have a veteran call up option that has recent NHL experience and should be able to jump right into the lineup should they need it. The Blackhawks were able to get younger on the blue line and shed some more cap space in the process.