At the beginning of the season, the Carolina Hurricanes had a couple of question marks regarding their lineup. One of those questions was, who would be playing at third line center? Jussi Jokinen, Jeff Skinner, and Patrick Dwyer have each seen some time there, but it ends up that Tuomo Ruutu might be the final answer to that question.
Ruutu certainly likes the new responsibility and his face lit up when I asked him about it.
"It's a different mind set, to be honest, and more responsibility in my own zone, but I am learning the position and it will get better."
I asked him if it affected the physical aspect of his game. "It changes some things obviously, with my responsibilities down low, I'm no longer the first one on the forecheck. But at the same time, you can finish your checks in your own end."
Coach Paul Maurice is pleased with Ruutu's effort so far and it looks like the Finn might stick there for awhile.
"Center ice and goaltending, we feel those positions dictate how your team plays. While we like our young players who are here, asking them to play center is a task." Maurice went on. "We initially put Jokinen there because of his experience, but at the end of the day, we really wanted to get the Jokinen, Staal, and LaRose line together again because of their success at the end of last season."
"It's always been in the back of my mind that we would like to give him a try. He did a super job for us last year when Staal went down, but it had to be the right line. Having Skinner now, and Cole available, it makes it an easier decision to put Ruutu in there." The coach elaborated a bit more.
"Most importantly though is that he likes the idea and he really feels that he can help the team out there. You have to have a player do more than just try it, he has to accept it and want to do well with it, and you have that with him."
"You look at our center ice now, Staal, Sutter, Dwyer, and Ruutu, we like it, we like it a lot. We will keep working with Ruutu and hope to develop him there more. It's how he came into the league, so he has some experience and confidence. He's played well for us since the move, so we would really love to see this take hold and see him become a good, solid center ice man for us."
Of course, one of the concerns about playing center is taking faceoffs and Ruutu admitted that he needed more work in the faceoff circle.
"Obviously, I'm not going to be a 60% guy right away, I need more practice at it," Ruutu said. "You just need repetition, and getting to know the other centers as well, and finding out what their tricks are."
Knowing Ruutu, he is probably developing a few tricks of his own. He is currently second on the team in faceoff percentage, although the Canes are ranked last in the NHL.
- Jokinen 51.5%
- Ruutu 44.6%
- Staal 36.9%
- Sutter 33.3%
- Dalpe 33.3%
- Skinner 28.6%
- Dwyer 22.9%
Ruutu will be playing at center tonight against the Rangers. We will have a game preview up after lunch.