Shortly after he was chosen with Washington’s third choice (second round, 46th overall) in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft, defenseman Theo Ruth was asked whether he had ever been to Washington before.
“No sir,” came the reply. Ruth addressed everyone as “sir” or “ma’am” in that press conference, even reporters who were a scant few years older than Ruth’s own age of 18. (It was the same at his draft combine interview with an assemblage of Washington scouts.) Ruth mentioned that had had passed through Washington a few times, but growing up he probably passed through a lot of places a few times.
Ruth has been on the move throughout his life. His father’s job brought about frequent transfers, resulting in a total of nine moves. Ruth lived in St. Louis, Pittsburgh, Florida, Texas and now Chicago among his residences.
Along the way, the Dallas Stars became Ruth’s favorite team and Scott Stevens became his favorite defenseman. The polite but hard-nosed kid tries to pattern his game after that of Stevens, the former Cap who will be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame this fall.
“I’m more of a defensive defenseman, physical, kind of gritty,” Ruth says, when asked to assess his own game. “I’m a strong skater, I move the puck well, make good outlet passes. I try to play like Scott Stevens, a defensive defenseman with some offensive upside.”
Recently, Ruth got his first chance to do more than just “pass through” Washington. A few weeks after the Caps chose him in the 2007 draft, Ruth and several other young prospects and hopefuls assembled at Washington’s annual summer development camp. For Ruth, it was another stop in a busy summer of traveling.
“I was really excited coming,” he noted, at the conclusion of camp. “I was a little nervous; it was my first pro rookie camp. It was fast. The guys were great on the ice, it was fast and everyone was talking. It was as fast as I thought it was going to be, so it worked out pretty well.”
Although he was one of the youngest of the dozen or so blueliners in attendance at this summer’s camp, Ruth more than held his own. He threw a few hits that would have made Stevens proud, backing into his own zone and administering perfectly timed and delivered hip checks to rub out puck carriers trying to go wide along the wall. Ruth also took out a few guys behind the net, loosening the puck from them and starting the transition with a sharp breakout pass.
“It is kind of natural,” he says, when asked about his ability to hit opponents without running around and taking himself out of position like so many young defensemen. “You just have to read the rush, read what’s coming your way. If you’ve got guys coming back you can step up and hit a guy. But if not, you kind of ease back and wait for some help.”
Despite his tender age and relative lack of experience, Ruth did not look at all out of place on the Kettler Capitals Iceplex surface.
“There are definitely a lot of other guys out there who are really good defensemen,” Ruth says. “But I felt like I fit right in. I didn’t feel like I was a step behind. For the most part I thought I was hanging with them.”
Ruth spent the 2006-07 season with USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program in Ann Arbor, Mich. He was the third of several USNTDP defensemen chosen in the 2007 draft, following teammates Kevin Shattenkirk (14th overall to Colorado) and Ian Cole (18th overall to St. Louis).
Several of the program’s alumni are already playing in the NHL or are high profile types on the verge of making their mark in the league. Among those on that list of USNDTP defensemen are: John-Michael Liles, David Tanabe, Andrew Hutchinson, Brent Lebda, Keith Ballard, Jordan Leopold, Mike Komisarek, Freddy Meyer, Ron Hainsey, Ryan Whitney, Matt Greene, Jack Johnson and Erik Johnson.
“The program is great,” says Ruth. “They help you all around and make you a really well-rounded player all through your game. It’s really a great place to go.
“It’s a much different schedule than you’re used to. It’s definitely a grind. You’re on the ice every day working out. It’s real tough. There are new situations you face that you get used to. It’s great. I’ll never forget it.”
This fall, Ruth is headed to South Bend, Ind. where he will be a freshman at Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish won out over Michigan St. and Miami (Ohio) for the services of the rugged rearguard.
After Washington’s development camp concluded, Ruth headed off for a brief vacation. But he was right back at work as soon as he returned.
“Right after this I’m going to Aruba,” he stated. “Then after that I get back I’ve got to train real hard. I have World Junior tryouts [starting] on August 3 in Lake Placid. I’ve got to get ready for that. I’m [also] going down to Notre Dame in a few weekends for alum weekend. I’ll train with them on the ice. After that, I’ll come home and after a couple weeks I get back from [World Junior] tryouts and then right off to Notre Dame. I’ll be busy.”
The World Junior tryouts hold particular appeal for Ruth.
“It’s going to be great,” he exudes. “I know a lot of the guys going. It’s going to be some tough competition to go up against. But I feel like if I play my game I should be all right.”
It’s easy to see what the Capitals saw in Ruth. He possesses many of the qualities they prize in young players: character, work ethic and skating ability. Although South Bend is next on his long list of residences this fall, Ruth hopes to add the District to that ledger in the not-too-distant future. And when he does, he and the Caps will both be hoping that he does more than just “pass through.”