Now signed to a four-year, $19 mil. contract, Tuomo Ruutu is expected to play a key role in the Hurricanes future by being a contributor in the team's top-six while providing a much-needed physical presence on top of that. It's hard to deny that Ruutu makes an impact whenever he is in the lineup but unfortunately, Ruutu spent most of this year watching the team from the press-box. Ruutu underwent hip surgery about a month before the start of the year and while he made his return ahead of schedule, he only played 17 games total this season. It was also revealed that Ruutu will have surgery on his other hip this off-season, so he wasn't at 100% even when he was in the lineup this year.
Ruutu has the entire off-season to recover, so he should be ready by the time training camp rolls around but his health is still a concern, mostly because his absence creates a huge void for the Hurricanes to fill. When he was on the shelf, the Canes had a big hole in their top-six and struggled to find a good fit for the right wing spot on the second line. They ended up over slotting third liners there for most of the year and predictably, none of them were a permanent solution or a replacement for what Ruutu brings. It took Ruutu a few games to get back to his full form but after that, he was one of the Canes better forwards in the latter stages of the season and I look forward to seeing what he can do in a full year.
With the news of his injury coinciding with the signing of the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, there were some people who thought Ruutu would be a candidate for the Hurricanes to use the amnesty clause on, but those talks should have died down by now. When healthy, Ruutu is an impactful player that the Hurricanes are going to struggle to replace no matter what, so his spot on the team should be safe for the next year or so. Ruutu is overpaid and will probably see his production go down as he gets older, but he is still an important part of the Hurricanes and was very good when healthy this past season.
Ruutu was slowly "eased" into action after he returned from injury, starting his first game on the fourth line and playing more minutes as the season went on. He would eventually settle in on the second line with Jordan Staal and play on the second unit on top of that. It wouldn't surprise me if this is the plan for him going forward, but I hope he is healthy enough to be used as one of the goal-line options on the first power play unit next year, since one of the biggest issues with the Canes power play was not having enough traffic in front of the net.
Another thing to look forward to next season is seeing how Ruutu can perform in a tough-minute role. With Semin playing on the first line, they needed a winger with the ability to control possession while playing against the top competition of the opposing team. Ruutu has been able to do this in the the past, but has been protected more in recent seasons and barely breaking even territorially in those minutes.
In the 17 games he played with the Canes this year, Ruutu was used in more of a "tough-minute" role and his results were not bad at all, so it will be interesting to see how he performs in a full year. Ruutu has the size and the skillset to be a tough-minute player and getting to be on a line with a center like Jordan can possibly boost his underlying numbers back to what they were in 2008-09. We'll have to wait and see how he performs over 82 games to be sure, though.
|5v5 Fenwick Diff/20||0.174||7th|
|5v5 Chance Diff/20||0.06||6th|
Ruutu's territorial performance went in an odd pattern. He got off to a great start, had a couple periods where he struggled and was able to quickly pick himself up off the ground. Overall, Ruutu was a very good player at controlling puck-possession, ranked favorably compared to the other forwards in just about every category and finished the year with a very high scoring rate at even strength. The most impressive thing about this season was that he did a pretty decent job of keeping the play out of his own end, which is evident from the low shots against rates. The one area where he got burned was in goals against, which is kind of hard to pin on him since Carolina's goalies let in 86.2% of the 5v5 shots they faced when he was on the ice. Ruutu has never been a great defensive player, but saying his high GA/60 rate is his fault is kind of silly because as a forward, the most he can control is shots and scoring chances, which he did a decent job of.
When you look at Ruutu's on-ice performance, he had a good year but he only played 17 games, so it will be interesting to see if this carries over to next season. If it does, then the Hurricanes top-six should be set but, as it was made clear before, Ruutu's health is a bit of a wild card.
In addition to being a solid possession driver at even strength, Ruutu was also one of the Hurricanes better performers in the neutral zone. He is the type of player who you would expect to dump the puck in more often because of his playing style, but he was actually more prone to carry it over the blue-line instead. This is a very good thing since that is what usually leads to more offense and the better of territorial play. Ruutu doesn't have to be the one in the driver's seat on his line since Jordan Staal is a strong neutral zone player and Jeff Skinner leads more zone entries than everyone else, but it doesn't hurt to have players like him that boost Carolina's even strength performance
Season Grade: Incomplete
I would love to give Ruutu a positive grade on the year, but he played in only 17 games and it's tough to judge his full body of work based on that. That being said, Ruutu's performance was mostly good when he was healthy and I wish he could have played in more games. Here's to hoping that he is back at full-strength next season.
The Final Word
The reason why the Hurricanes overpaid to keep Ruutu is because there weren't a lot of viable options to replace him and it make more sense for Carolina to keep what they had. This year, we saw the void Ruutu creates when he is out of the lineup and hopefully the Canes can get at least 60 games out of him next year. I would be lying if I said that I wasn't concerned about Ruutu's injury history combined with him getting older but at the same time, I was pretty impressed with what I saw from him this year and he wasn't even at 100% for most of these games. The question is whether or not Ruutu can play at this level and stay healthy for the majority of next season. If he can, then it could be a huge difference maker for Carolina.