Medlin: Hurricanes getting healthier
Posted March 15, 2013
Reinforcements are on the way for the Carolina Hurricanes.
Defenseman Joni Pitkanen is expected to be back in the lineup this weekend, and forward Tuomo Ruutu is expected back by the end of the month. That's a top-pairing defenseman and a top-6 forward both returning to the action – de facto trade deadline acquisitions without the need of actual trades.
The NHL's trade deadline is April 3, and the Canes – like most playoff contenders – will likely survey the landscape for options to improve their team for the postseason run. But in getting two veteran, playoff-tested performers like Ruutu and Pitkanen back on the ice, the Canes' roster will already be bolstered.
Pitkanen's presence should improve the Canes' struggling power play and strengthen the Canes' defensive pairings as well. Ruutu, once he's back up to speed, could be slotted on the 2nd line alongside Jordan Staal and Jeff Skinner or on a beefed-up third line with Jussi Jokinen and Riley Nash. Any way you cut it, the Canes will be deeper and more talented with the two injured Finns back on the ice.
And there's another possibility – the return of Ruutu and Pitkanen might free the Canes up to make a deal for a missing piece of the equation – perhaps a stay-at-home defenseman – at the deadline.
Either way, the Canes have options, and they're more likely to be buyers rather than sellers at the deadline for the first time in several years.
Injuries have plagued this team – Cam Ward is still out, Jeff Skinner missed a batch of games, and at one point half of the regular defense corps was unavailable – but the lineup is mending now, and at just the right time.