The Hurricanes played most of last season with a banged up roster and an important piece missing was Tuomo Ruutu. The rugged winger was limited to only 17 games last season after undoing hip surgery during the lockout. It was clear that his absence created a big void to fill in the Hurricanes top-six, as the team struggled to replace him on the second line. The right wing spot was basically a revolving door for the first two months of the seasons and it had a big impact on the Canes secondary scoring.
Some would consider Ruutu a "declining player" because he is in his 30's (he's the oldest forward on the team), has battled injuries the last couple of seasons and posted underwhelming numbers in his last full-season. Ruutu's health is a major concern, especially since he is now playing on two surgically repaired hips, but calling him a "declining" player is a bit of a stretch. The injuries may hinder the physical side of Ruutu's game but when healthy, he was very effective last year.
Ruutu has been able to score at a top-six rate at even strength for most of his career and this didn't change last season. His nine points in 17 games would give him an even strength scoring rate of 2.08 points per 60 minutes. This is a small sample size, but it does show that Ruutu had a pretty big impact when he was healthy and his even strength scoring rate over the last five seasons has been among the best on the team.
Ruutu has been one of the five best forwards on the team during this time and only the top line scored at a higher rate than him last season. Also consider that he has been a positive possession player and someone who can play the tough matchups if needed and it's easy to conclude that Ruutu is a key piece for Carolina. Being able to get at least 60+ games out of him next season will go a long way.
As of right now, Ruutu is listed as one of three left wings on the roster, but I think he will eventually end up on a line with Jordan Staal & Jeff Skinner. The reason why I'm clamoring for these three to be put together so much is because they are the most dangerous offensive players on the team not on the first line and there are indications that they can be a formidable second line. I've mentioned before that Staal & Skinner showed more chemistry than they were given credit for, as they were the Hurricanes best duo at controlling the shot battle last year. This will eventually lead to more goals next season and adding Ruutu will only make things better.
Why? Because Ruutu has a history of playing well with Jeff Skinner. These two along with Jussi Jokinen formed what was arguably the Hurricanes best scoring line in 2010-11 & 2011-12, and there's no reason why they can't do the same with Staal centering them. I mentioned earlier that the Hurricanes second line was inconsistent last year because they cycled through so many different players at the right wing, but adding Ruutu could be what makes this unit gel together.
Ruutu doesn't have much of a history playing with Staal, but Skinner's results with him are hard to beat.
|Player||Goals w/15||Goals w/o 15||Pts w/15||Pts w/o 15||Corsi% w/15||Corsi% w/o 15|
|J. Staal (2012-13)||0.440||0.847||1.758||1.588||0.539||0.540|
Since Skinner entered the league, his goal production has always been higher when he plays with Ruutu and he has produced at a first line rate with him, too. Given how often these two have played together, that is very impressive and it makes little sense to separate them. Playing away from Ruutu hasn't affected Skinner's ability to drive the play, but it's interesting to see how much his point production drop. He isn't the only one who Ruutu's had this effect on, although his is a little more extreme.
Both Staal & Jokinen saw their point production slightly decline while playing away from Ruutu and Jokinen was a negative possession player away from him. He hasn't played that many minutes with Staal yet, but his results with him are promising thus far and adding Skinner into the equation could really put them over the edge. Skinner & Ruutu have shown tremendous chemistry in past seasons and have the potential to form a great second line with Staal as the pivot. All they need is some time to work together, which they were not given last season.
Scoring depth was a major issue for the Hurricanes last season and while they didn't make many moves to address it this off-season, it could be mitigated if they get more out of their second line this year. Skinner & Staal are due to have more productive years, but getting Ruutu may end up being the difference maker for this unit.