After two very disappointing games against the hottest teams in the Eastern Conference, an 8-1 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers and a 7-2 loss to the Montreal Canadiens, the Carolina Hurricanes will look to improve on their 8-9-0 record Wednesday evening in Pittsburgh. While the losses are a setback, the Hurricanes sit 11th in the Eastern Conference and are within striking distance of a place in the top-eight, and a playoff position. While Eric Staal and Jeff Skinner have powered the offence, one player Carolina fans hope to see more production from is second line center Tuomo Ruutu.
A first round selection of the Chicago Blackhawks in the 2001 Draft (9th overall), the 6’0 native of Vantaa, Finland has three points in his last five games but was victimized by the high-flying Philadelphia squad; finishing the game as a -4. For the Hurricanes to get back on track, Ruutu is a key component to the offence. This season marks the first time he has played center for the Hurricanes, and they hope his physical style of play will help on the aggressive style of forecheck employed by Carolina.
“If he’s the lead guy coming through the middle on our forecheck, he’s thinking hit, and if you get hit enough times you start rimming the puck to avoid him,” head coach Paul Maurice told NHL.com writer Paul Branecky in late October. “That’s when our forecheck is really effective.”
Limited to only 54 games last season due to a shoulder injury (and a three game suspension), Ruutu is healthy and hoping to surpass his career-best 54-point season he had in 2008-2009, his first full year in Carolina. One area in need of improvement in his new role as a center is in the face off circle. The Hurricanes are last in the NHL when it comes to face off percentage, winning only 39.2 %, and Ruutu is slightly above the team average at 40.6%.
More wins on the draw may help their power play, which ranks 21st in the league (14.5%) and the penalty kill (currently 25th in the NHL at 75.4%). The Canes would love to see an improvement in the plus/minus category for Ruutu as well; he is a -8 this season and -42 in his career, (a large portion of the -42 came in his first season in Chicago when he finished the year at -31).
Like his older brother Jarkko, Tuomo Ruutu has represented Finland at the World Championship and the Olympics; earning two bronze medals (2006, 2008) and a silver at the World’s (2007), and a bronze at the 2010 Olympic Games in Vancouver.
Signed to a three-year contract before last season, which pays him $3.8 million, Ruutu is an important part of the Hurricanes organization. With Cam Ward in goal, Eric Staal providing great leadership, and the impressive play of rookie Jeff Skinner, the Hurricanes have a solid foundation to build upon. If Ruutu can stay healthy and emerge as a legitimate second line center in the league, they will be in the hunt for a playoff position for several seasons. They may not have the firepower to knock the Washington Capitals out of the top spot in the Southeast Division, but they can certainly be a top-eight team. This organization has proven before, that once they get to the playoffs, they know how to win it all.
Image resource: Clydeorama on Flickr
Andrew Rodger is an independent sports columnist and member of the Canadian Association of Journalists. Along with operating The Voice of Sport, he covers the Ottawa Senators and writes the “Ask the Alumni” series here at The Hockey Writers. He is the resident writer for the NHL Alumni Association and a contributor on CBC News Now.