Tuomo Ruutu's Major Role on Team Finland a Positive for Carolina Hurricanes

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Tuomo Ruutu's Major Role on Team Finland a Positive for Carolina Hurricanes
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After one of the most tumultuous winters of Tuomo Ruutu's career, the 31-year-old Carolina Hurricanes winger is finally finding his game.

And it is just in time for a run with Team Finland during the ongoing men's hockey tournament at the 2014 Winter Olympics.

Ruutu is one of 14 NHL players on the 25-man Finnish roster and has quickly emerged as a key producer and on-ice leader during the course of the Olympics to date.

A native of Vantaa, a populous suburb of the national capital of Helsinki, Ruutu has registered three assists, four points, six shots on goal and a plus-four rating through three appearances in Sochi.

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He scored Finland's only goal on Sunday against Canada, deflecting Ossi Vaananen's shot past Canadian goaltender Carey Price to tie the game in the second period. Ruutu outmuscled Canadian defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic to gain position just outside the crease, then made a nifty tip that left a vision-blocked Price with no chance to make the save.

It was just the kind of play that has made Ruutu a regular in Raleigh over the past half-decade and just the kind of goal mysteriously lacking from him in 2013-14.

Canada won the game 2-1 in overtime, but Finland finished the group stage with seven points and earned the fourth and final first-round bye in the elimination portion of the tournament. They will face the winner of the game between No. 5 seed Russia and No. 12 seed Norway (a team the Finns downed 6-1 during the group stage) on Wednesday.

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Ruutu spoke to Heikki Miettinen of the Helsinki Dispatch after the game. The translation is spotty at best, but Ruutu clearly references the "width of the Finnish ice hockey"—the squad is well-known for its ability to take advantage (per Dan Rosen of NHL.com) of the wider international ice.

It seems odd that a scrappy, physical player like Ruutu would excel on a larger surface which presumably spreads opponents farther apart. Yet, one way or another, No. 15 is finding a rhythm with his countrymen.

The Hurricanes surely hope that rhythm will continue when the NHL season resumes a week from Tuesday.

Ruutu's ice time dipped into single digits in six of nine games between Jan. 13 and 31, including a incredible five minutes, 45 seconds in the last game of that span versus St. Louis. Previously, his ice time hadn't been below 10 minutes in a non-injury-affected game since arriving in Carolina in Feb. 2008.

Coming off two hip surgeries in the 2013 calendar year, Ruutu's scoring touch had disappeared and his physicality in impact and hit totals were way down for the season as a whole.

Gregg Forwerck/Getty Images

Yet No. 15's usage spiked greatly in his final three games before the break, rising to near 12 minutes and then to more than 13 twice. He tallied two assists and a plus-two rating in the three-game span and a plus-19 shot attempt (Corsi) differential (per Extra Skater) in the final two as his line with Riley Nash and Drayson Bowman caught fire.

That positive momentum clearly carried over nine timezones away in Sochi.

It will be put to the test even more in the coming week as Finland's hopes of repeating their medal performance from 2010 are truly put on the line in the elimination rounds. Alongside national stars such as Teemu Selanne, Lauri Korpikoski and Jussi and Olli Jokinen, however, Ruutu will receive ample opportunity to maintain his growing chemistry and production.

As the conclusion of the tournament and the resumption of the NHL playoff stretch run approaches, Ruutu's continued growth should be a tremendous source of optimism from the perspectives of both Team Finland and the Carolina Hurricanes.

Mark Jones has been a Carolina Hurricanes featured columnist for Bleacher Report since 2009. Visit his profile to read more, or follow him on Twitter.

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