It's hard not to love a player like Tuomo Ruutu: rugged, skilled and driven. The Finnish power forward delivered this season on the expectations many had for him when he was the No. 9-overall selection by the Chicago Blackhawks in the 2001 Entry Draft. Ruutu set career highs in goals, assists and points last season and established himself, at the still-young age of 25, as a potential first-line threat and physical force.
But questions of consistency and durability still linger, and Ruutu — a restricted free agent in negotiations with the team on a new contract — will need to continue to grow and answer critics to establish himself as a top-flight forward.
|2008 - Tuomo Ruutu||79||26||28||54||0||79||10||0||4||1||190||13.7|
The Good: As previously mentioned, Ruutu established career-highs in several categories. He finished second on the Hurricanes in goals and third in points, plus was among the league leaders in hits by forwards. His bodychecks often swung momentum — particularly at home in the RBC Center — and, while he rarely single-handedly took over games, he could always be relied upon for an honest effort.
Ruutu also became the team's best front-of-the-net presence on the power play, willing to screen goaltenders and battle for rebounds. His 10 power play goals were second only to Eric Staal's 14, and his 17 goals on the road was tied for 20th in the NHL (Staal, with 22, led the team and was one behind three league leaders).
The Bad: The biggest negative in an otherwise breakthrough season for Ruutu was his playoff performance. He managed just one goal (albeit in Game 7 vs. New Jersey in the Conference quarterfinals) and three assists in 16 postseason games. Still, his injury in the conference finals against Pittsburgh was a huge loss, as he played just a touch more than 10 minutes total in two games of the Pens' sweep.
Outside of his scoring struggles in the playoffs — and remember, this was his first postseason action of his career — Ruutu was able to avoid any prolonged slumps during the regular season. At the same time, a first-liner needs to have more than the 12 multi-point games the Finn had in 2008-09. Comparatively, Ray Whitney had 21 multi-point games, including 12 from February through season's end, and Staal had 19. Finally, no one will ever confuse Ruutu for a Selke winner, but at the same time he's not a huge liability in his own end.
The Stats: As mentioned, Ruutu had a career year last season. But his most impressive stat might be his 228 hits, good for 10th in the NHL. Only Alex Ovechkin had as many hits (243) and more goals (AO's 56 to Ruutu's 26) and only four other players reached the 200-20 club.
- 26 goals — career-high (three more than his rookie season) and second on the team.
- 28 assists — also a career-best, seven more than the 21 he had two other times in his career.
- 54 points — bested his previous high of 44 from 2003-04 by 10.
- 190 shots — another career-best and 90 more than 2007-08.
- 10 PPG — second only to Staal's 14 man-advantage markers.
The Money: Ruutu made $2.25 million last season after signing a one-year tender offer as a restricted free agent before the season. Again an RFA, Ruutu's representation is in talks with Canes GM Jim Rutherford on a multi-year deal. San Jose's Ryane Clowe, a comparable player, received a four-year, $14.5 million contract this offseason. Expect Ruutu to sign a less expensive and shorter deal — one that would fit into Carolina's budget and make Ruutu an unrestricted free agent sooner. A good guess is two years in the $3 million per year range.