Last season, Chad Ruhwedel went almost three months without seeing any NHL action. But when Olli Maatta went down with an injury, Ruhwedel stepped right back into the lineup on Feb. 13 against Edmonton and helped the Pens earn a 2-1 win. That's just one example of the depth and professionalism the 29-year-old defenseman brings to the group.
"Chad has exemplified what it means to be a team player the past two years," Pens general manager Jim Rutherford said. "His work ethic and conditioning have allowed him to jump into the lineup at a moment's notice, which is vital to a team's success."
The Pens appreciate the role that Ruhwedel plays, while he has enjoyed being a part of this group over the past three seasons. That is why he re-signed a two-year deal on Thursday that runs through the 2020-21 season and has an average annual value of $700,000.
"I knew deep down that I wanted to come back to Pittsburgh," Ruhwedel said. "I embrace the role and just try to do everything I can to help the team move forward and obviously try to get some personal success along the way.
"Had a good experience there over the last three years and it's a great organization to be a part of, so I'm glad we got things done early. Just a little peace of mind."
Ruhwedel could have waited until free agency began on July 1 to explore other options, but ultimately decided against it so that he could return to a good situation that's he's grown comfortable in.
"That definitely came up in talks with my agent," Ruhwedel said. "We weighed all those options. I could have chased other teams, other opportunities. But we're pretty happy with Pittsburgh. Want to get the playing time up as much as possible in any situation, but we wanted to come back and we're glad that we made that happen."
After Ruhwedel rejoined the lineup on Feb. 13, he helped the Pens go 4-2-1 over a stretch of seven games. During that span, he scored his first career game-winning goal on Feb. 19 at New Jersey and logged a career-high 24:38 minutes played in the Stadium Series on Feb. 23 at Philadelphia.
Unfortunately, Ruhwedel suffered an upper-body injury on Feb. 26 at Columbus that sidelined him for the rest of the season, but is now back to full health and looking forward to next year.
"I was actually cleared just a few days after the season ended for us, which is unfortunate," he said. "But I'm glad to be back to healthy and training at 100 percent, so I'll be fully ready for training camp."
Ruhwedel appeared in 18 games for the Penguins last season, recording one goal and one assist. Prior to 2018-19, Ruhwedel suited up for Pittsburgh in a career-high 44 games in 2017-18, and 34 games in 2016-17, where he recorded a career-best 10 points (2G-8A).
Perhaps most importantly, Ruhwedel has seen action in 18 career postseason contests and helped the Pens win the 2017 Stanley Cup. He's hoping to continue gaining experience and improving along the way.
"The experience has been crucial, obviously," he said. "We've had some good playoff runs and had plenty of playoff games, and that always helps with your confidence and your swagger on the ice. I think I've developed in that way nicely over the last few years.
"Obviously the coaching staff has also helped me a lot along the way with Sergei Gonchar and Jacques Martin. They've been crucial to my development with Pittsburgh. I'm obviously really thankful for that. Things have continually improved, so it's been a good road so far."