The Carolina Hurricanes got a boost at practice this morning as winger Tuomo Ruutu skated with teammates and, perhaps most importantly, participated without wearing a non-contact jersey.
Ruutu, 30, has missed all 25 games this year after undergoing hip surgery in early January.
The procedure was supposed keep Ruutuu shelved for the year — “certainly through the regular season,” ‘Canes GM Jim Rutherford said at the time — but the gritty Finn has rehabbed strongly and appears well ahead of schedule.
Over the weekend, reports surfaced that Carolina was looking at a potential Mar. 15 medical clearance date.
“Hopefully by next week we get the green light from him,” head coach Kirk Muller told the Raleigh News & Observer on Sunday. “I think it will start off as team practices, then physical contact. He’s a guy who has kept himself in pretty good shape. I think once it starts, as far as practices, I don’t think he’s too far off.”
Ruutu was reportedly taking random line rushes with the team at Thursday’s practice, in advance of tonight’s tilt against the Capitals.
Ruutu is a solid scorer (18 goals, 34 points last season; 57 points in 2010-11) and provides a physical presence up front. He led all Carolina forwards in hits last year, with 151.