The Hurricanes are a team that has often been mentioned in trade rumors for the last few years and one of the most frequent names that often pops up on rumor sheets is their rugged forward Tuomo Ruutu. This reached an all-time high last season when the Hurricanes appeared to be sellers at the trade deadline and had to make a decision on what they wanted to do with Ruutu going forwarrd since his contract expired at the end of the season. Since it was a sellers market and Ruutu was having a good season, trading him would have made sense, but Jim Rutherford elected to re-sign the big Finn for four years instead.
This move was met with mixed reactions. On one hand, you had those who were glad that Rutherford decided to retain one of the team's best forwards at a reasonable term length. Ruutu had just turned 29 last February, so he has at least a few years left of good play left in him and shouldn't experience a huge decline until his new contract expires when he turns 33. This was also a way of Rutherford showing that he is willing to make an effort to retain his key players and not lose him for nothing through free agency. It wouldn't surprise me if he was still feeling the burn of letting Erik Cole walk only for him to have a career season in Montreal and didn't want to have another incident like that.
On the flip-side, Ruutu isn't in the prime of his career anymore as most player's scoring numbers begin to tail off when they enter their 30's, and the Hurricanes may not get good value out of what they are paying Ruutu if his production takes a steady decline. Rutherford also paid a big price to keep Ruutu in Carolina as he will be paid $19 mil. over the four years of his contract, equating to a cap hit of $4.75 mil. per season. Under the previous salary cap, this isn't anything deterimental but it could end up looking bad if the cap goes down a significant amount. It's also worth mentioning that Ruutu hasn't been a dominant player at even strength in two years, which is a major concern when it comes to predicting his future success and whether or not he will be able to give the Canes good value for what they are paying him.
The emergence of Jeff Skinner and off-season additions of Jordan Staal and Alexander Semin will mean that there will be less pressure on Ruutu to be one of the offense's main catalysts, but the Hurricanes are still going to want him to produce at a top-six rate since he is capable of doing so. His 34 points in 72 games last season is a bit disappointing but he was on quite a tear from December until he got injured in mid-February, when his season was derailed a bit. The Hurricanes will need Ruutu to play more like he did before the injury if they want to get the most out of his contract, but they are also going to need for him to contribute in other areas, ones that won't show up on the scoresheet.
With the Hurricanes top-six undergoing a bit of a makeover this off-season, some players are going to have adjust to different roles and Ruutu could end up being one of them. What impact will this have on him and what kind of scoring production should we expect from Ruutu this season? Find out after the jump.
Ruutu has been a top-six player for most of his career and will continue to be next season. He is usually shifted back and forth between the first and second line but I think he will spend most of his time on the latter next season because I can't see him playing more minutes than Semin or Skinner. He should continue to play 13-14 minutes per game, though. That's what he has been doing for the last few years and I don't expect his role to change that much in terms of ice-time.
Where I do expect his role to change is what kind of minutes he plays. Whoever Jordan Staal plays is going to need to take on a lot more responsibility when it comes to who they are matched up with and where they start most of their shifts. Jordan Staal could be the guy who replaces Brandon Sutter's as the team's "heavy lifter" and take most of the tough matchups against opposing team's top lines. It's possible that Ruutu ends up being one of J. Staal's most frequent linemates and has to play those kinds of minutes and I'm a little skeptical of whether or not he can handle it. Ruutu hasn't been a tough minutes player in two years and has struggled to be someone who can drive possession at even strength. He was able to do this in 2008-09 and 2009-10, so there is some hope that he can return to being a tough-minute player but we won't know that until the season starts. Although, Jordan Staal is a player who can make his linemates better, so Ruutu could be able to do fine in a tough-minute role on a line with him.
Why is this such a big concern? Because Ruutu's ability to drive the play will affect the number of shots on goal he can create on a game-by-game basis and in turn, his goal and point total.
Ruutu has never been that much of a goal-scorer throughout his career. Yes, he had 26 goals in 2008-09 but that was his career high and he hasn't come close to reaching that total since then. He may have had a chance to do so last season but I still think he would have finished with 20-21 goals even if he didn't miss 10 games. His scoring rate at even strength last season was actually the highest it's been since 2007-08, and that's partially because his 5v5 shooting percentage was at its highest point in five years.
You could say that Ruutu is due for some shooting regression but his shooting percentage has always been somewhat high over the last four seasons, so it's possible that he is a better finisher than some give him credit for. If that were the case, then I'd expect him to have more goals but something that may have been holding him back in 2010-11 was that he wasn't shooting the puck enough. He played center for most of 2010-11 so it doesn't surprise me that his shot rate was lower that season. He was also injured for a good portion of 2009-10 and had somewhat of a low shooting percentage, which might be why he had only nine goals that season.
Still, Ruutu has never been one to light the lamp much at even strength with the exception of a couple seasons, last year being one of them. I mentioned that a higher shooting percentage may have helped him out but him returning to wing did result in him getting more shots off at even strength and that helped a lot. I'm also willing to bet that a lot of his shots & scoring chances came when he was playing on a line with Jussi Jokinen & Jeff Skinner, as that line was near-dominant at controlling scoring chances and was the Canes best offensive unit. They also received a bit of territorial protection, which definitely helped them a little.
If Ruutu plays next season in a tougher role with Jordan Staal, then his shot rate could be prone to decline a fair bit. However, it may also go the other way since J. Staal is a better possession driver than any other Carolina forward and that could result in Ruutu getting even more opportunities than he did the previous year. Things could go either way but it's probably a safe bet to say that Ruutu's shot rate won't rise or fall at a dramatic rate when you factor in his possible new role and linemates. Age might be a factor since he's going to turn 30 in February but I don't think it will be that much of an issue for now.
If Ruutu maintains that kind of shot rate, his goal total at even strength could range anywhere from 8-15 goals depending on his shooting percentage. The good news here is that Ruutu's career shooting percentage is pretty high (12.5%) and he's been a good finisher at even strength for the last few years, so his goal total may end up closer to the high end.
|Year||ESA||ESA/60||ESSF/60||ES on-ice Sh%|
Over the last couple of years, Ruutu has had a relatively high on-ice shooting percentage which means that his teammates have been scoring more often at even strength when he was on the ice. Normally, we would assume that this is the result of some generous shooting luck, but Ruutu is a good enough playmaker to raise the shooting percentage of his linemates and possibly give Carolina an 2 extra goals per season so Ruutu might be playing a factor here, as well. This has been very evident in the last couple of seasons and seemed to reach an all-time high in 2010-11 when he had nearly 30 assists at even strength alone. Ruutu's high on-ice shooting percentage may be more than just smoke and mirrors, but is it possible for him to replicate that kind of production this year?
I wouldn't bank on him recording that many assists again, even if he plays a full-season, but he could be poised for a good season if his line can generate enough shots on goal. This is where the possibility of him playing with Jordan Staal will work in his favor, because if Ruutu and Staal can be a solid possession oriented line, then that will open up more opportunities for both of them to record more points. How well they shoot is another story, but if Ruutu continues to elevate the shooting percentage of his linemates at even strength, then he could have around 20 even strength assists in an 82-game season. All of those are somewhat big "ifs," though.
Ruutu usually picks up most of his points from assists one way or another, so it's not far-fetched to think that he will end up with 20 assists at even strength when you factor in that he could be playing with stronger linemates. It all depends on how good his line is at controlling possession.
|Year||PP TOI||PP TOI/G|
Ruutu got less minutes on the powerplay last season, which is a bit strange because the Hurricanes options were limited in that department. He was on the first unit with Jeff Skinner and Eric Staal for a good part of the season, so I'm not sure why he played fewer minutes per game than those two. Ruutu still played the fourth most powerplay minutes per game on the team, so he was a main fixture there and likely will be this season. The addition of Alex Semin could bump Ruutu down to the second unit, but I expect him to still get at least two and a half minutes of powerplay time per game. Ruutu didn't produce that much on the powerplay last season, but he is still one of the team's more dangerous forwards and should be used there.
|Year||PPG||PPG/60||PP SOG/60||PP Sh%|
One of the reasons why Ruutu didn't produce on the powerplay last year was because he shooting percentage fell into the abyss. That shouldn't continue next season, especially when you consider that he was shooting the puck more often than he ever was before. A shooting percentage regression was almost inevitable for Ruutu when you look at how high it was in the previous years, but I don't think anyone could have predicted this kind of a drop. Expect his PP shooting percentage to look closer to the league average next year because he isn't going to be running this cold forever.
What that means regarding his goal total is a good question because that's going to depend on how much ice time he gets and that could range anywhere from 2-3 minutes per game. It's possible that he could see his shooting percentage spike up to where it was before and have 8 PPG's, but it's more realistic that he ends up with 4-5 if he stays on the second unit and has his shooting percentage stay closer to the league average.
|Year||PPA||PPA/60||PP SF/60||PP On-ice Sh%|
The Hurricanes powerplay shooting percentage when Ruutu was on the ice also took a nose-dive last season and I would expect that to rebound this season. The team's shooting percentage before last season wasn't unsustainably high, so it was a little surprising to see such a large regression in a short span of time. If Ruutu plays on the second powerplay unit, then I'm not expecting him to be on ice for a lot of shots per game, but his assist total should bounce back given how much of his decline last seas was due to bad luck/shooting regression. Even a below average shooting on-ice shooting percentage would give Ruutu a couple more assists on the powerplay than he had last season, so there isn't much that needs to be done here other than hoping that a few extra bounces going his way.
Ruutu's minutes shouldn't change that much from last season unless he goes through a major slump, so I'm projecting him to play about 13-14 minutes a game at even strength and two and half minutes on the powerplay. Assuming that is the case, Ruutu would finish the year with roughly 1148 minutes at even strength an 82 game season. At even strength, I have his shot rate declining to 7.1 SOG/60 mins. because he is going to be playing a tougher role but I don't have it dropping that much since his linemates should be better at driving the play than they were last season. If Ruutu spends most of the year on Eric Staal's line, then he could get a zone start push and if he plays on Jordan Staal's line then he should be on a better territorial unit. Either way, his supporting cast should be stronger than what he had last season.
An even strength shot rate of 7.1 SOG/60 mins, would equate to roughly 118 total even strength shots. If his shooting percentage stays where it was last year, then he would end up with 13-14 even strength goals while shooting at his five year average would give him 11-12 even strength goals. Ruutu has been a good finisher throughout his career, so I see his goal total being closer to the high end this season and will project him to have 12-13 goals at even strength. He could end up with more if he gets more shots on goal per game than what I'm projecting him to have, but Ruutu has never been that big of a goal scorer at even strength so I'm being a little conservative.
Most of Ruutu's even strength points usually come from assists, and I think that will be the case again this year since he could be playing on a line that produces more shots per game. I have him projected to be on ice for 30.3 even strength shots per 60 minutes, which is a little higher rate than what he had last season. Ruutu is also a player that is capable of raising his teammate's shooting percentage, so while I have him projected to be on ice for anywhere from 47-61 goals, he could end up being closer to the high end because of his play-making skills. Personally, I have him projected to be on ice for about 53 even strength goals this season, meaning the Hurricanes would have to shoot at about 9.2%, which is doable and not too much of a stretch. This would give Ruutu 18-23 even strength assists on the season depending on how many goals he is involved with. Since 2007, he has recorded an assist on 43.3% of the even strength goals he was on-ice for, so I have him doing a little worse than that this year and am projecting him to have 20 assists.
I'm projecting Ruutu to have a big rebound on the powerplay, seeing how most of his struggles there are related to both him and the Hurricanes having a horrible shooting percentage. The only thing I see holding Ruutu back is the team restricting him to second unit duties, which might happen because he is behind Skinner and Semin on the depth chart right now. I still think he will get at least two minutes of powerplay time per game and have 26 powerplay shots in an 82 game season. Remember, his shot rate jumped up to over 8 powerplay shots per 60 minutes, so he is capable of creating a lot of offense while playing five-on-four and I expect that to sustain this season. In the end, I think he will finish the year with 4-5 powerplay goals. His powerplay shooting percentage has always been really high, so his five-year average is 19.3% and I don't expect that to sustain. However, Ruutu could still have 4-5 goals even if he shoots around the league average, which is what I'm expecting him to do this year.
While I think Ruutu will score more goals this year, I'm projecting him to be on ice for fewer shots on the powerplay due to him playing mostly on the second unit. He should still be on ice for more PPGs, though, seeing how he was on ice for only 10 last season and his on-ice shooting percentage was well below the league average. My prediction is for him to be on ice for about 44 powerplay shots per 60 minutes, which would put him on ice for 11-23 goals depending on what his on-ice shooting percentage is. Since his possible linemate, Jordan Staal, is due for a shooting percentage regression on the powerplay, I'm expecting Ruutu's on-ice shooting percentage with the man advantage to end up somewhere close to the league average. That would put him on ice for 18-19 powerplay goals and given him 5-7 assists on the season depending on how many goals he is involved in. Ruutu has recorded an assist on only 27.5% of the PPGs he's been on ice for, so I don't think his assist total with the man advantage will be too high.
82 Game Projection
|Ruutu 2012-13||ESG||ESA||PPG||PPA||SHG||SHA||Total Pts||PPG/82|
Ruutu should have a better season than last year, in my opinion. He'll have better linemates and will hopefully be able to control possession at a higher rate based on that. This should lead to him getting more shots/scoring chances and, in turn, more points. That being said, I'm only predicting him to have 18 goals this year since he has only been able to get 14-18 goals in a season while having a high shooting percentage. He should get more powerplay goals, but his goal-scoring at even strength is likely going to take a step back, or at least that's what I think. Ruutu might be able to top this projection, but it's going to depend on how often he shoots the puck because while he always tends to maintain a high shooting percentage, he doesn't shoot as often as some would like him to.
The shooting percentage of his linemates will obviously have an impact, as well since most of Ruutu's points come from assists and how well his teammates shoot is anyone's guess. Ruutu's playmaking skills are obviously going to help out his overall total at even strength but predicting someone's shooting percentage is still tough and could go either way. The thing to remember with shooting percentage is that while some players can help raise the shooting percentage of their teammate's, it's still something most players have little to no control over and that's why it's important to worry more about how well a player can control possession and the shot battle instead. The latter is something I think Ruutu will be able to be better at this year due to playing with stronger linemates, which is why I'm projecting him to have more assists at even strength.
All in all, my prediction is for Ruutu to have 10 more points than he had last season, which might sound disappointing when you consider that he missed 10 games last year, but this is actually pretty reasonable when taking Ruutu's age and career numbers into consideration. Yes, Ruutu is due for a stronger year on the powerplay but I think his days of shooting at over 20% during 5-on-4 play are over and his even strength production is roughly in line with his career numbers aside from the 2010-11 season, which is looking like his career peak. I don't think Ruutu will put up those kind of numbers again, but him putting up 44-50 is very likely if he can take advantage of the Hurricanes improved top-six.