OTTAWA - After seven seasons in the NHL, Jarkko Ruutu has earned the reputation of being an agitator and a pest. This year, the Ottawa Senators winger is also showing something else - a little offensive flare.
Ruutu has four goals and seven points through 12 games and is fifth in scoring for the Senators. He's on pace to score 27 goals, easily eclipsing the career-high 10 he had in 2005-06.
However, it's not something he's spent much time focusing on.
"To be honest I never really thought about it," said Ruutu. "I just go game by game. I can score when I get a chance."
While his NHL numbers may not show any offensive prowess, Ruutu was second in league scoring in the Finnish junior league in 1994-95. He had 26 goals in 35 games that year.
"I actually used to be a pretty good scorer back in the day," said Ruutu. "Given my role now, things change."
Ruutu is a solid third-or fourth-line player who is counted on for his energy and defensive abilities.
With several Senators struggling to score, coach Cory Clouston has been appreciated Ruutu's contributions.
"He deserves the success," said Clouston. "He's worked hard. He's gotten himself into position and he's made the most of his opportunities. He does have a good shot."
Linemate Chris Kelly says he isn't all that surprised by Ruutu's numbers.
"Jarkko's a really good player," said Kelly. "I don't think people give him as much credit as he deserves. He's a skilled player."
Kelly says Ruutu also has a great ability to lift the team's spirits when needed and isn't afraid to speak his mind.
That carries quite a bit of weight in the Senators dressing room.
"He speaks when something needs to be said and people will listen," said Kelly. "He also has great energy and can keep things light."
Ruutu has also seen an increase in his ice time on the penalty kill.
The Senators have the third best penalty killing unit in the league and have scored a league-high four short-handed goals.
"I really pride myself on the PK," said Ruutu. "I think it's a really important part of my game. I really enjoy PK."
As for his being considered an agitator, Ruutu can only laugh at the reputation he's earned. He knows he's been tagged as a pest, but says he's fine with the moniker.
"What I do on the ice is different than who I am off the ice. I'm willing to do whatever it takes to win, I never give up."
The 34-year-old says he also thoroughly enjoys the challenge of throwing players off their game.
"It's not fun to play against the guys who don't give you room or want to drive you crazy," said Ruutu. "But if you're offensively frustrated you don't create anything."
Ruutu, in the second year of a US$3.9-million, three-year contract, joined the Senators at a time when the team was undergoing change and turmoil.
He admits last season came with its share of difficulties.
"Sometimes you get bad years," he said. "That's the way it is now. You need to get a good start. Last year I think we thought we didn't need to work as hard as you're supposed to and when little things don't go your way it hurts you in the end."
The Senators underwent more changes this year due to Dany Heatleys trade request, but overall Ruutu believes the Senators are a better team than a year ago.
Ruutu hopes he has many more surprises in store for the Senators.
Notes: C Jason Spezza returned to the ice after missing the last two games due to an upper body injury. Spezza is hoping to be back in the lineup for Thursday's game against the Tampa Bay Lightning ... C Mike Fisher missed practice with what the team called "bumps and bruises," but he isn't expected to miss any more timea C Jesse Winchester could be back in the lineup for Thursday's game now that he has returned from a two-week conditioning stint with the AHL's Binghamton Senators.
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