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I Wanted to be Penguin: Ruhwedel Finds Vindication in Role, New Contract



PIttsburgh Penguins, Chad Ruhwedel

It seems like a lifetime ago that the lowly Buffalo Sabres cast off depth defenseman Chad Ruhwedel. He played just five NHL games after signing a two-year contract for 2014-15 and 2015-16. The Penguins and former GM Jim Rutherford quickly signed him on July 1, 2016, and he’s decided to hang around.

Actually, it seems he’s never going to leave.

Ruhwedel, 31, is in his fifth year with the Penguins organization. He’s never played less than 18 games in a season, and this season he’s already set a career-high with 48 games played and counting.

On Saturday, Ruhwedel signed another two-year deal with the Penguins with a very team-friendly cap hit of $800,000 per season. As an everyday regular, he probably could have received more money on the open market in July. Right-handed defensemen are always in demand, but the supply is small, hence the Penguins slotting the reliable defenseman into the lineup.

“It really doesn’t come down to (money) for me. I wanted to stay in Pittsburgh. I wanted to be a Penguin. It’s where my heart is for sure,” Ruhwedel said.

Chad Ruhwedel made an immediate impact in 2016-017. He played 34 games and scored a career-high 10 points. He played in six playoff games, has a Stanley Cup ring, but his name does not appear on the Stanley Cup (the organization used the final spot for veteran Mark Streit on the Cup instead).

He’s been the steady-Eddy of the Penguins defense core, capable of sitting for long stretches, sometimes months, then leaping into spot duty or extended stretches. He may not be the most exciting defenseman or the most noticeable, but there is value in always having a player ready.

And happy to play the role.

PHN asked Ruhwedel if the new everyday gig and contract was a bit of vindication, albeit a long time coming.

“Yeah, right from the start of the year, I’ve had a good opportunity to show why I’m a part of this team and why I’m in the lineup. I’ve just been trying to do that on a nightly basis,” Ruhwedel said. “They know what I bring to the table. I know what I’ve got to bring to the table to fit into the lineup, and that’s what I try to do on a nightly basis.”

Chad Ruhwedel hasn’t wasted a lot of ink on the scoresheet this season. He has six points (1-5-6), though he made his first goal of the season a biggie. Last Tuesday, as the PPG Paints Arena crowd and the team buzzed over Sidney Crosby scoring his 500th career goal, the Penguins trailed 4-3. Later in the third period, Ruhwedel raced from the blue line to the net.

Perhaps he caught the Philadelphia Flyers by surprise. No one covered him, and he buried the tying goal to set up overtime, which the Penguins won, thus saving the win for Crosby’s celebration.

However, even when he scored his first goal of the season in dramatic fashion, Ruhwedel remained in the shadows. The 5-foot-11, 191-pound defenseman doesn’t appear that large. He doesn’t cast a shadow on or off the ice.

“I think what he brings to our defense corps is just just an element of stability. He understands his role. He plays the game within himself, defends hard, has good mobility, gets back to pucks, and helps us with the breakout,” head coach Mike Sullivan said. “He’s really developed his game into becoming a real effective penalty killer. And he’s a guy that just plays a simple, simple, reliable game. And so he’s been a stabilizing defenseman.”

In a salary-cap world, the Penguins are devoting nearly the league minimum to an everyday defenseman that provides exactly what the Penguins need. Defense partner Mike Matheson is no worse for wear, either.

Matheson has been above board this season, too. The offensive defenseman has 21 points (7-14-21) in 49 games and is a plus-5.

Steady as it goes.