General manager Dale Tallon's biggest task this summer is to upgrade the Blackhawks' skill level, specifically their top six forwards.
Last summer Tallon made overtures to Mike Modano and Peter Forsberg in the continuing quest for a No. 1 center. That position still needs to be filled, but the answer already could be on their roster.
Tuomo Ruutu was drafted as a center and played the position in Finland. He's the Hawks' most skilled offensive player and potentially a point-a-game player.
Going into next season with Ruutu as the No. 1 center could solve a major problem for the Hawks and allow Tallon to build around him.
That's a possibility according to Tallon, and it would be fine with Ruutu even though he doesn't get caught up on "positions."
"I doesn't really matter if you play center or wing if you're on a good line," Ruutu said. "Anybody could play center on a line."
Hawks coach Trent Yawney, however, is concerned about Ruutu having too much responsibility defensively playing center.
Considering their offensive woes this season, the Hawks may be best served by simply letting Ruutu play and not worry so much about defensemuch like Steve Yzerman and Modano did early in their careers before turning into two-way players as they matured.
Ruutu still is recovering from surgery on his right ankle in January and wasn't in the lineup Friday night when the Hawks fell 2-1 to the Anaheim Mighty Ducks.
Andy McDonald had a pair of goals, including the game-winner over Nikolai Khabibulin's left shoulder 1 minute 57 seconds into the third period. Kyle Calder scored the Hawks' only goal, his second in as many games and 16th on the season.
Ruutu is skating again and possibly could see game action before the end of the year. A back injury early in the season and the ankle injury suffered Jan. 8 have limited him to 11 games this season.
A shoulder injury suffered in the World Cup in September 2004 kept him out of action all last season.
"If everything is well and I'm 100 percent healthy, why not [play]?" Ruutu said. "I haven't played too many games the last couple of years."
The Hawks have their fingers crossed that Ruutu is over his injuries and can start becoming the dominant player they projected him to be when he was drafted ninth overall in 2001.
It also would make things a lot easier for them if he can become the elusive No. 1 center.
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