Canes get first look at Loktionov

calexander@newsobserver.comMarch 6, 2014 

Canes general manager Jim Rutherford isn't sure how forward Andrei Loktionov will fit in. He isn't sure if the Russian might be tempted to leave for the KHL after this season.

But Rutherford said a priority on Wednesday, the NHL's trade deadline, was to trade forward Tuomo Ruutu and a contract that will pay Ruutu $5 million each of the next two seasons. Ruutu was sent to the New Jersey Devils in exchange for Loktionov and a conditional draft pick.

It's not that Rutherford doesn't like Ruutu. He does. So did Ruutu's teammates on the Canes. But shedding Ruutu's salary will offer more salary-cap space and options after the season, Rutherford said Thursday.

"Your top forwards need to play in the top six," Rutherford said. "As time has gone on, he is not in our top six. So from a financial point of view it doesn't make sense to continue to carry that type of player.

"From a physical point of view it may be something we need to address in the offseason. But as much as I liked Tuomo and as much as I think his game is starting to turn around, he wasn't giving us as much as we would have liked. … I think the player we got for him has just as good a chance of putting as many pucks in the net or points on the board as Tuomo."

And if Loktionov were to leave for the KHL after the season? He fielded KHL offers last year -- reportedly for $3 million a year -- but decided to stay in the NHL.

"I really don't know, but if he does it just gives us flexibility to do something else," Rutherford said. "If we were still sitting here with Tuomo we wouldn't have that flexibility. Andrei, if he decides to go back to the KHL, it just opens a spot for someone else."

Rutherford confirmed Thursday that the Canes are retaining part of Ruutu's salary the next two years. He did not say how much was retained, but it's believed the Canes will pay 20 percent or $2 million.

Loktionov, 23, put in his first practice Thursday with the Canes and was used as the fourth-line center with Manny Malhotra and Drayson Bowman on the wings.

"He's a skilled player," Canes coach Kirk Muller said. "I know coming out of junior he was really highly touted. For us, he brings a different dimension. He's a good half-wall guy for the power play and makes plays. We'll start him off as the fourth-line center and see what chemistry he has with different guys as we move along."

Loktionov said he was a "little surprised" to be traded by the Devils, but added, "It's just a business and you have to be ready for that."

Loktionov said all the right things to the media Thursday, noting he hoped to help the Canes reach the playoffs. He said Alexander Semin was one of the first to call on Wednesday after the trade, welcoming him to the team.

Semin did not practice Thursday but Muller said it was a maintenance day and Semin would play Friday against the New York Rangers.

Asked about his play this year with the Devils, Loktionov said, "I think I play not bad. One game I play 20 minutes and another game I play 10 minutes. All the time, my (ice) time is changing. You never know. All the time they (were) switching lineups. I think it was OK."

The Canes had three goalies at practice Thursday. Rutherford said the decision was made a few days before the trade deadline to carry all three through the rest of the season.

Anton Khudobin signed a two-year contract extension on Tuesday and has become the Canes' No. 1 goaltender. That's left Cam Ward in a difficult position, Rutherford said, and he noted Ward's struggles now have become more mental than physical.

"Cam has been the No. 1 goalie and knew he was the No. 1 goalie (and) never had anyone challenge him the way Anton has," Rutherford said. "I think he's got too many things going through his head. Until he gets that cleared out it's going to be tougher for him."

Goalie Justin Peters was recalled Wednesday from the Charlotte Checkers (AHL) after a two-week conditioning stint.

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