Is it finally Tuomo’s time?
In 2002, The Hockey News had Tuomo Ruutu rated as the top NHL prospect in our annual Future Watch issue. By September of 2004, his blend of skill and toughness was making our prediction look to be nearing fruition. Ruutu, the ninth overall pick in 2001, had just completed a 23-goal rookie season in which he played every game for the Chicago Blackhawks. Then, in the sport’s death rattle before the lockout, he had a nice showing as a 21-year-old for Finland at the World Cup of Hockey.
Essentially, that was the last high point until, well, now.
Ruutu came back after the lockout and played just 15 games in 2005-06, then scored only 17 goals in a 71-game campaign the next season. During that time, there wasn’t a body part crucial to success in pro sports that he didn’t injure. Shoulder, knee, back, ankles – Ruutu had them all roughed up.
His run of luck was so bad in Chicago police assumed he’d turned to a life of crime and mistakenly arrested him.
Ruutu was dealt to the Carolina Hurricanes last February and promptly took a stick in the face for 40 stitches in his first game.
What else did we expect when Ruutu was traded to a team with Carolina’s wretched injury luck? It was a match made in the infirmary.
But things have been looking up as of late for the now 25-year-old Ruutu. Entering Thursday night’s game against Washington, he was riding a four-game point streak and has four goals and eight points through nine contests this year. Naturally, he was forced to miss a couple games with a groin problem, but he’s moving well now, playing the right side on one of Carolina’s top two lines. Ironically, one of the reasons Ruutu is among the Canes’ top-six forward group is because of injuries to Justin Williams (Achilles tendon, out until at least mid-January) and Matt Cullen (leg, back any game now).
“He’s a real strong player,” said Carolina coach Peter Laviolette after Ruutu assisted on Niclas Wallin’s overtime-winner versus the Maple Leafs on Tuesday. “He’s strong on his feet, he’s strong on the puck, he’s got a great shot, he plays the game hard and it’s going to lead to chances.”
Expectations were always a bit too high for Ruutu, who’s not a natural goal-scorer. But it’s hard not to hope this guy will keep his still-young body together for a few seasons, just so we can see what he is capable of.
Ryan Dixon is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey’s Young Guns and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Wednesdays and his column, Top Shelf, appears Fridays.
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