Among all the off-season discussions concerning the Hurricanes, Tuomo Ruutu has been somewhat of an afterthought. With all of the hype surrounding the defense, Jeff Skinner and the bottom-six, it's easy to see why but Ruutu's still an important part of this team and the Hurricanes are going to need him to be healthy in order to be competitive in this new division. Ruutu's often thought of as a physical player and while he is effective in that department, he also possesses a lot of skill and has produced at a top-six level for most of his career. His physical presence is important, but I think the Hurricanes missed his offense more than anything last year and it will be great to have him back in the lineup.
The question is whether or not Ruutu can be effective as he once was. He is only 30 years old, but is coming off two hip surguries within the past year. Couple that with the fact that forwards tend to see their production drop as they get older and it's fair to expect Ruutu to take a step back next season. Although, there were no indications of him slowing down when he got on the ice last year. Hip surgery limited Ruutu to only 17 games last year but he was very, very good in those games, recording nine points and scoring at a top-six rate yet again. He was especially good towards the end of the season once he began to get more ice-time and the Hurricanes will hope they can get that Ruutu for at least 50-60 games this year.
Assuming that Ruutu stays healthy, can he produce at the levels the Hurricanes are used to seeing from him? We already know how important Ruutu is to the team's scoring depth, but how many points should the Hurricanes expect from him this year? We'll explore that issue and more after the jump.
Even Strength Production
Ruutu's scoring rates were inflated last season due to him not playing many minutes and there's a slim chance that he will score over 2 points per 60 minutes next season. That said, Ruutu's consistently been someone who can produce at a top-six rate and he has become a pretty good goal-scorer at even strength the last couple of years. Perhaps that's a result of him moving over to the wing full-time? Either way, Ruutu has gotten the job done in a scoring role and should be able to do the same next season if he can stay healthy. He isn't a first liner, but most teams would welcome this kind of production in their top-six.
Ruutu's performance has been pretty consistent over the years. He typically plays about 13-14 minutes a night at even strength and has produced about 7-8 shots per 60 minutes in recent seasons. The Hurricanes offensive output hasn't changed much either, save for the 2008-09 season when Ruutu was flanking Eric Staal. Other than that year, Ruutu's even strength production hasn't changed much and he has been a solid finisher throughout his career, too. I wouldn't count on his 13.8% shooting percentage from last season carrying over, though.
Power Play Production
Aside from 2011-12, Ruutu's been a big producer on the power play and oen of the Hurricanes best goal-scorers in this area. He didn't get many minutes there last season because the team was slow with bringing him back from an injury, but he has delivered in past seasons and should be a big part of the Hurricanes power play again. It might be tough to get him first unit minutes, though if the team elects to use Tlusty or Skinner on the left wing instead.
Either way, the Canes will be looking for Ruutu to return to the form he had from 2009-11 to spark their power play and there is a good chance they'll get similar results if 2011-12 was a fluke.
PP Team Sh%
When looking at this, it's pretty obvious that 2011-12 was an odd season for Ruutu on the power play and it's safe to expect him to be much better in future seasons. He wasn't shooting the puck or creating offense at a lower rate than he was in previous seasons, but his shooting percentage completely tanked for whatever reason. I would bet money on that returning to normal next season. What is normal for Ruutu, though?
That's a good question because he has posted a very high shooting percentage on the power play over his career and I'm not sure if he will still be able to do that in his 30's. He should go back to posting respectable numbers, but him being a 20% shooter and elite play-maker seems doubtful, especially after the injuries. That said, Ruutu should have better results than the previous two seasons, seeing how 2011-12 was filled with bad luck and he barely got any power play time last season.
Predicting Ruutu's ice time is a little tougher to do than some of the other players because we don't know if Ruutu will begin the year in the top-six. Muller currently has him listed as a left winger and if he stays there, it means either him or Jeff Skinner will get bumped to the third line. I think Ruutu will eventually end up on a line with Skinner because he can play right wing and the Hurricanes have a need there. That will put him back in the top-six and give him around 13-14 minutes a game at even strength. This is probably where his ice time will end up regardless because of how much Muller rides his top players, so I have him projected for 13 and a half minutes per game at even strength.
Assuming Ruutu's shot rates stay consistent from recent years, he should end the season with 135-136 shots on goal at even strength, although there is a chance that he could have more. If he plays on Jordan Staal's line then he could easily record many more shots per game because of how good they are at controlling territorial play. Factor in Skinner creating rebounds and this is a line that can produce a lot of offense. Unfortunately, we don't know which line Ruutu will be starting on and I'm going to go the safe/conservative route for now and say he has 7.5 shots per 60 minutes at even strength.
Ruutu shooting a this rate would lead to him scoring anywhere from 12-19 goals at even strength depending on what his shooting percentage is. Ruutu has been a good finisher over his career, so it's fair to aim towards the high end with this projection, but I'm going to go with his career averages for now. He hasn't played a full season in awhile and might go through some cold streaks because of that. Ruutu shooting at his career average would give him 14-15 even strength goals in a full season. Although, he could have 16-17 if he has a good year.
Earlier I mentioned that Ruutu will have the chance to produce more shots if he plays on Jordan Staal's line and this also applies to his on-ice shot totals. Ruutu could easily be on the ice for as many as 32-33 shots on goal per 60 minutes if he plays in the top-six and I have him projected to be on the ice for about that many this year. This would put him on the ice for 579-580 shots in a full season and that would equate to him being on the ice for about 52-54 goals if his on-ice shooting percentage remains at his six-year average. Again, he could have more but I'm playing it safe and going with his career averages for now. Ruutu being on the ice for 52-54 goals would give him 19-21 assists at even strength based on his career assist percentage.
On the power play, Ruutu's numbers could really go either way because the last two seasons have been really weird for him. He had no puck luck at all in 2011-12 and he was barely used on the power play last season. This makes it really hard to project his performance for next season because he could be prone to slide either way. Regardless, I ended up settling for his career averages again because that's really the safe thing to do in this instance. It wouldn't surprise me if his numbers end up different, though.
Anyway, I have Ruutu projected to play a little under two minutes per game on the power play and register about 8 shots per 60 minutes. This would give him 21-22 shots in an 82 game season and give him 3-4 goals. Ruutu returning to his form three years ago would give him 5-6 goals, so expecting something a little lower than that is reasonable.
Ruutu's on-ice shot rates also declined last year but like I said earlier, he was scarcely used on the power play so those numbers are probably an outlier compared to the rest of his career. Unless Ruutu sees his performance decline, he should be on the ice for at least 47 shots per 60 minutes on the power play and that would put him on the ice for 137-138 power play shots in a full season. This would equate to him being on the ice for 12-14 power play goals in a full season and registering 3-4 assists if his career averages stay consistent. Although this could change depending on who his linemates are, as he will likely post better numbers if he gets promoted to the first unit.
Adding it all up, I have Ruutu's projection set at around 17-19 goals and 42-45 points. That might sound like a disappointment, but I think the Canes will be happy if they can get at least 40 points out of the rugged Finn. He might produce more if he gets more minutes, but when taking his injuries into consideration, 40+ points would be a good year for him. Ruutu being able to stay healthy will be the bigger concern.