Imagine an NHL fourth line featuring a 5th overall pick in the most recent draft and a former 26 goal scorer. In a few short days, that could be what the Carolina Hurricanes trot out onto the ice in either Pittsburgh or Washington.
Tuomo Ruutu is nearing a return, ready to make his season debut, and Kirk Muller has hinted that he may ease Ruutu in on the fourth line along side Elias Lindholm.
“[Ruutu] has missed some time, and one thing we see is that guys that have missed time, it’s tough to get in and eat lots of minutes,” Muller said after practice Monday. “If he does get in, maybe he starts off on the fourth line and builds himself up.”
And maybe he doesn’t. Whatever it is about the second and third lines — the unlikeliest of combinations — they’re working well together right now. Jordan Staal, flanked by Patrick Dwyer and Nathan Gerbe have drawn the toughest assignments while Riley Nash, Jeff Skinner and Radek Dvorak have produced two of the team’s three even-strength goals.
“You really don’t want to mix up chemistry. Nash’s line, so far, has seemed have good chemistry, playing well and producing. They’ve been pretty strong. And Jordan’s line has had great chemistry.”
It hasn’t just been the forwards filling in, either. In addition to Ruutu, Tim Gleason has found a home in the press box after sustaining a concussion in a preseason matchup against the Montreal Canadiens.
But Brett Bellemore has filled admirably. After standing out during training camp, earning a roster spot, Muller has trusted Bellemore enough to put him on the second pairing with Ron Hainsey. Despite being on the ice for the overtime goal against the Detroit Red Wings, Muller praised Bellemore’s play, calling it “really strong”.
There’s no time table for Gleason, who hasn’t been practicing yet, but there’s no rush. If Bellemore falters, Mike Komisarek is ready to tag in.
In years past, an injury or two would cripple the ‘Canes, sending them into a funk. This season, they’ve weathered the storm, taking 3 of a possible 4 points against the Red Wings and Philadelphia Flyers. Not a bad opening weekend considering the top line has combined for zero points and a minus six rating.
All three have been banged up in recent months. Eric Staal injured his knee at the World Championships while Alex Semin and Jiri Tlusty suffered minor issues during training camp. But given the Hurricanes’ play so far, they haven’t been missed.
A year ago, Staal’s line, one of the best in the NHL carried the way. This year, the depth has picked up the pieces, forcing Ruutu and Lindholm to form one of the toughest fourth lines in the NHL. It might not last, but right now, it’s fun to watch.