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Ruutu Helping Canes in New Position

by Paul Branecky / Carolina Hurricanes
Using Tuomo Ruutu at center is an experiment that coaches and management hinted at long before it came to pass. So far, the results have been encouraging.

Paul Branecky
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While he has yet to register a point since making the switch from right wing three games ago in San Jose, coach Paul Maurice feels that the Finnish forward can make the best use of his famous physicality in his new position.

“We run a pretty aggressive two-man forechecking system, and in order to have that you need speed at center ice,” said Maurice. “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. That’s when our forecheck is really effective.”

Ruutu had moved to center during games as an on-the-fly adjustment in the past, but had never started a game in that spot for any of his previous 144 games with the Hurricanes. 

“There are certain things you do differently and there are still things I can improve on, but I’m starting to get really comfortable,” said Ruutu.

That’s because the position isn’t new for him, even if it’s been a while. He was drafted with the ninth overall pick and broke into the NHL as a center with Chicago, but estimates that he only played around seven games there before the Blackhawks moved him to the wing, likely because he was still somewhat slowed from a nine-month recovery from knee surgery.

Now that he’s back, Maurice can see his long-dormant pedigree at the position.

“That’s how he got to the NHL,” said Maurice.  He was good enough to be a high draft pick in the NHL as a center, and I think it’s still there. I think he can do it.”

Faceoffs rank as his biggest area of adjustment, although he’s hardly alone in that regard. His 42.6 percent conversion rate isn’t stellar by any means, but it actually ranks second on a team that’s currently last in the league with a rate of 36.5 percent.

If Ruutu can continue to improve in that area, that could be part of the team’s solution to what’s become a season-long problem. If not, he’s at least formed an effective line with rookie Jeff Skinner and team mainstay Erik Cole that has been generating some much-needed offense in recent games.

“He just works so hard,” said Maurice. “He’s not a perimeter guy. He’s in the mix and he’s in the fight.”

Switching gears, the Canes organization feels it has begun to seen more of that in forward Jiri Tlusty, who returned from a two-week conditioning stint in Charlotte on Tuesday as he continues to recover from off-season ACL surgery. He played five games with the AHL’s Checkers, notching a goal and an assist.

”In the first couple of games, I was really behind the play and felt like I was chasing the puck,” said Tlusty. “Then in the next few games, everything came together. I started to read the game better, and had so many chances that I just missed.”

Maurice acknowledged seeing an improvement in Tlusty, but also suggested that he would not enter the lineup immediately for the team’s home opener against Washington on Wednesday. As of now, he looks to be one of two healthy scratches at forward for the team, with the other yet to be identified.

“He’s got an injury that takes anywhere from 4-6 months to get right, and he’s worked really hard and he looks good out there,” said Maurice.  “He’ll have to get into a few more practices and then, eventually, a game.”

Maurice added that Chad LaRose, who was given a maintenance-related day off from Tuesday’s skate, would be in the lineup against the Capitals. Patrick O’Sullivan, who was a healthy extra in the team’s most recent game at Phoenix, temporarily took his spot on the top line with Eric Staal.

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