Tuomo Ruutu could be closer to returning to the Hurricanes’ lineup than once originally thought.
Head coach Kirk Muller said Friday after practice that Ruutu and defenseman Joni Pitkanen will travel with the team this weekend.
While dressing for the Canes on Saturday against the Lightning isn’t set in stone for either player, a return to the lineup before the team is back in town on Tuesday is not out of the question.
“Once they get off, we’ll check and see how they are. I think they’re close,” Muller said. “That was a good full practice for them with a few battle drills.”
While the ultimate destination for Ruutu in the lineup is likely the second-line wing with Jordan Staal and Jeff Skinner, Muller plans to ease the 30-year-old forward into game action.
“It’s been a lot of time that he’s been off. Getting in this time of year, I think the key is just getting his feet wet … so he feels comfortable, and then assess it after whatever that first game is,” Muller said. “I think it’s a comfort zone for him, too, mentally to go, ‘Hey, I don’t want to jump in on a certain line when the team is going well and everything, and I don’t know if I’m at that level yet.’
“If it’s going good, he’ll play more. If not, it’s OK. It’s step-by-step.”
Ruutu has yet to play in a game this season, as he underwent hip surgery in mid-December. He first practiced with the team on Thursday.
The Canes reassigned forward Chris Terry to Charlotte on Friday morning. If Ruutu is unable to play Saturday, the team still has 12 available forwards, as Kevin Westgarth has been a healthy scratch the last three games.
Pitkanen has missed 13 total games from a lower-body injury. After sitting out seven games, he played just over six minutes against Florida on March 2, re-aggravating his ailment. He has missed the team’s last six games.
Great news for the Canes.