The Carolina Hurricanes returned to PNC Arena for the first time in about a month on Thursday, and joining them was newly-acquired forward Andrei Loktionov
Loktionov and a conditional draft pick were acquired from New Jersey in exchange for forward Tuomo Ruutu just hours before Wednesday’s 3 p.m. trade deadline.
“It actually was a little bit of a surprise, but no one is safe,” said Loktionov, a native of Voskresensk, Russia. “It’s a business, and you have to be ready for that.”
Loktionov, 23, was slotted in as the fourth-line center in practice, flanked by Manny Malhotra and Drayson Bowman on either side of him.
“It was a good practice, actually. Fast practice, good pace,” Loktionov said. “Everything was good for my first day.”
“For us, he brings a different dimension. He’s a good half-wall guy on the power play, and he makes plays,” head coach Kirk Muller said. “We’ll start him off probably on the fourth line at center and see what chemistry he has with different guys and just move along as we get to know him better.”
Asked what he can bring to the team on the ice, Loktionov, who speaks English pretty well, had a simple answer: “We’ll see in the game. Scoring, maybe an assist,” he said. “I like being the center and passing the puck.”
In 135 career NHL games, Loktionov has recorded 19 goals and 19 assists (38 points). A fifth-round pick of the Los Angeles Kings in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft, Loktionov made his NHL debut in the 2009-10 season and was a member of the Kings’ Stanley Cup Championship team in 2011-12.
Loktionov potted his first NHL goal against the Hurricanes in Los Angeles on Oct. 20, 2010. Setting up shop behind the Canes’ net in his fourth-career game, Loktionov threw the puck to the front of the net, and it bounced off Justin Peters’ stick and in. Coincidentally, this was the same game in which Jeff Skinner scored his first of 31 goals he tallied in his Calder Trophy-winning rookie season.
“I was driving over here, and I heard [about the trade] on NHL SiriusXM. I remembered he scored on me,” said Peters, who returned to Raleigh yesterday after a two-week conditioning stint with Charlotte. “It went off my stick. I know that. I don’t know if it just went in directly off my stick. I guess they all count.”
In six career games versus Carolina, Loktionov has scored three times, his most against any team in the league.
“It’s my lucky team,” he said with a smile.
Now, Loktionov will be in the business of helping the Canes score.
“I think it’s a great team. I hope I can help this team to make the playoffs,” he said. “It’s a good team with good hockey players.”
Loktionov joins fellow Russians Anton Khudobin and Alexander Semin in the locker room. He said he knew Khudobin prior to joining the Canes but met Semin for the first time yesterday, speaking with him on the phone following the trade.
“It was the first time I spoke with him, and I saw him for the first time today,” Loktionov said. “I can talk to them, and they can help me with everything.”
Trading Ruutu and What’s Ahead
Ruutu leaves the Hurricanes after seven seasons with the team. He joins the Devils, the opponent he faced in his first game as a Hurricane, a game that immediately endeared him to fans. After having his flight delayed and then arriving at the arena with the assistance of a police escort just 10 minutes prior to faceoff, Ruutu required 40 stitches to repair deep cuts above his left eye spanning down his nose, an injury he suffered in the third period.
Though Ruutu struggled statistically on the ice this season, his game showed signs of improvement, especially in the 2014 Winter Olympics as he helped Team Finland capture a bronze medal, his 11th medal in 11 major international tournaments.
“Ruuts was great to the organization. He’s a good competitor, and he played hard,” Muller said. With the way he plays and finishes his checks, that’s his game. He’s a good character guy. We wish him well.”
Just 20 games remain on the Canes schedule, nine of which will be played at home, including two straight home games (separated by a road game versus Ruutu and New Jersey) against the New York Rangers.
Six points out of a wild-card spot, the Canes are mathematically still in the playoff hunt, and more than half of their remaining schedule features Metropolitan Division opponents.
“Every game is really important right now,” Muller said. “We just have to be ready. We had a good practice today. We had lots of jump, and we were skating well. That’s all we can do, just approach it one day at a time.”