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'Canes coach Maurice high on his Finnish triumvirate

by Dan Rosen
HELSINKI -- Carolina's Finnish contingent obviously is front and center here as the 2010 Compuware NHL Premiere gets closer, and coach Paul Maurice had some interesting comments Tuesday to a Finnish TV station about center Jussi Jokinen, right wing Tuomo Ruutu and defenseman Joni Pitkanen.

Jokinen came first in the line of questioning, and by Maurice's responses you can tell how high he is on the Finn, who scored a career-high 30 goals and 65 points in 81 games last season.

"I really think it's just the start for Jussi," Maurice said. "He had an unusual path in the NHL from Dallas to Tampa, but sometimes it's just fit, and he fits here. He gets along with the players. His skill set matches what some of the other players have. So we have high expectations.

"Now, 30 goals is quite an achievement in the NHL -- Jussi is capable of scoring 40, but he's also capable of having a very, very good season and only scoring 20 because he does a little bit more for us than just putting pucks in the net."

Maurice mentioned the fact that Jokinen now is centering the second line, which includes 18-year-old Jeff Skinner. He said one of Jokinen's responsibilities is to bring along the seventh pick of the 2010 Entry Draft, which may in turn affect his production.

"His final goals won't necessarily tell you whether he had a great year or not, but he's capable of scoring even more than he did last year," Maurice said.

Maurice was asked if there is more pressure on Jokinen now as a result of his strong 2009-10 season.

"There is more pressure, but the advantage that he has is Eric Staal is here," the coach said. "There are two kinds of pressure -- what you put on yourself and what other teams do to you. So when we get into who is going to play against the other team's No. 1 center or the other team's top checking center, that's usually Eric Staal who draws that fire and that's why I think Jussi is so creative. In practice he is more determined than he ever was before. He's in better shape than he ever was before. He's faster. I expect he's going to be able to do a lot. We need it from him."

The next Finn up for discussion was Ruutu, who Maurice indicated is a major charge in the Hurricanes' battery.

"He bangs, competes and he fights hard. He plays what we like to call a North American game, but that's pretty close to a Finnish game, as well," Maurice said. "He's a banger, so how we play a lot of nights really is based on how he's moving. When he's banging and he's on the puck, our whole team plays that style of game. The two times we lost him to injury -- once in the conference final two years ago and last year a couple of times -- we really suffered."

Finally, the Finnish journalist got to Pitkanen, who led the NHL last season in time on ice per game at 27:22.

"He probably would tell you that he could play more if the coaches would just play him more," Maurice said. "He played 30 minutes one night and I asked him how he felt. He said, 'Not really good until the third period.' He's a horse. He just can log a tremendous amount of minutes. He's got a mean streak that shows itself every once in a while."

Maurice believes Pitkanen, now 27 years old, hasn't shown his best yet in the NHL.

"Right now he's a very, very, very good defenseman, and he's capable of being one of the best," the coach said. "He's big, strong, skates well, sees the ice a lot. So we count on this guy a lot. Take him out of our lineup and we're a completely different looking team."

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl
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