Jan Rutta

Blackhawks and Lightning swap depth defensemen and draft picks

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USA TODAY

Blackhawks and Lightning swap depth defensemen and draft picks

The Blackhawks and Lightning have gotten together on a trade involving a pair of depth defensemen looking for a fresh start, with Jan Rutta heading to Tampa Bay and Slater Koekkoek is coming to Chicago. The Blackhawks also acquired a fifth-round selection in 2019 and are sending their seventh-rounder to the Lightning.

In an effort to give their younger defenseman in the organization a look, Rutta was squeezed out of the Blackhawks lineup in December and it was hard to see a path where he'd be back with the big club. The trade gives him an opportunity to latch on elsewhere and the Stanley Cup favorite Lightning insurance on the back end for their stretch run and playoffs.

Rutta, 28, becomes an unrestricted free agent this summer and carries a $1.225 million cap hit, which the Blackhawks were eating some of while he was in Rockford, so it's a bit of a money-saver.

As far as the return, Koekkoek is a former first-round pick (No. 10 overall) in 2012 but hasn't been able to reach his potential in the NHL. The 24-year-old left-handed shot defenseman has appeared in only nine games this season, and has one goal. He was recently sent to the Syracuse Crunch of the American Hockey League for a conditioning assignment.

Koekkoek is set to become a restricted free agent this summer for the second straight year after signing Tampa Bay's qualifying offer for one-year, $865,000. The remainder of the season will likely serve as an audition for him and whether he can solidify a spot in the organization, although it could be a crowded young blue line in 2019-20.

With Gustav Forsling (upper torso) on injured reserve and Duncan Keith battling an illness, Koekkoek will remain on the 23-man roster for now.

Moving up two rounds in the NHL Draft is a nice bonus for the Blackhawks as well. Some notable fifth-round picks in recent memory for the Blackhawks: Marcus Kruger, Luke Johnson and Andrew Shaw.

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Jan Rutta clears waivers, but Blackhawks running into logjam on defense

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USA TODAY

Jan Rutta clears waivers, but Blackhawks running into logjam on defense

After clearing waivers on Friday, the Blackhawks sent Jan Rutta to the Rockford IceHogs of the American Hockey League as they continue to shuffle the deck on defense. But there's still a logjam on the back end and decisions must be made soon.

Erik Gustafsson is back after missing two games with an illness. Carl Dahlstrom was recalled from Rockford. Gustav Forsling, who's nursing a shoulder injury, is getting close to returning. And Brandon Davidson, who had meniscus surgery on Nov. 27 and was originally given a 6-8 week timetable, practiced with the Blackhawks on Friday for the first time since the injury. 

In total, nine defensemen were on the ice for morning skate ahead of Friday’s matchup against the Winnipeg Jets, which means the competition is just beginning.

"That’ll be determined by how guys play," coach Jeremy Colliton said. "So that’s a positive for our team."   

Despite Rutta being out of the mix now, the Blackhawks still have to make some roster decisions and identify who their rotation will consist of on defense. Or at least clear room to give the younger guys a longer look for the future. They carried eight defensemen last season and have been reluctant to do so again this season.

With the league-wide holiday freeze approaching from Dec. 19-27 that prevents teams from making any transactions on the waiver wire or trade front, it wouldn't be surprising to see the Blackhawks make a move or two come before then. 

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SportsTalk Live Podcast: Wide receiver roulette for the Bears

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SportsTalk Live Podcast: Wide receiver roulette for the Bears

SportsTalk Live comes at you live from Blackhawks Authentic Fan night at the United Center! Luke Stuckmeyer hosts and is joined by David Haugh (Chicago Tribune), Mark Lazerus (Chicago Sun-Times) and Charlie Roumeliotis (NBC Sports Chicago/NHL.com). The guys start things off going over the contract extensions for Jan Rutta and Erik Gustafsson. Next, who should the Bears aim to sign at wide receiver? Finally, will the Astros or Cubs have a better 2018 season?