The struggling Carolina Hurricanes will get a big boost tonight — Tuomo Ruutu will make his season debut.
‘Canes head coach Kirk Muller made the announcement on Thursday morning, uplifting news given his team has lost four straight and is currently without starting goalie Cam Ward (knee), top defenseman Justin Faulk (knee), forward Chad LaRose (concussion) and bueliner Joe Corvo (lower body).
Ruutu, 30, has missed all 29 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.
Getting him back should help Carolina in several facets of the game.
Ruutu’s a solid scorer (18 goals, 34 points last season; 57 points in 2010-11) that provides a physical presence up front, leading all Carolina forwards in hits last year, with 151.
As for where he’ll play?
Muller was hesitant to break up the top line of Eric Staal-Alex Semin-Jiri Tlusty — the trio has been scoring in bunches — but suggested Ruutu could get a look on the team’s second line next to Jordan Staal and Jeff Skinner.
“We need to see where [Ruutu] is at,” Muller told the Raleigh News and Observer. “If he comes back and he’s playing at the level he’s capable of, initially [the second line] is where you have him penciled in.”