Ruutu and Brunner: A Fourth Line Fit for the Devils?


On Tuesday, The Record‘s Tom Gulitti reported on the roles of both Tuomo Ruutu and Damien Brunner, and he brings up a valid question: where do Ruutu and Brunner fit into New Jersey’s lineup?

The duo have been skating together for the duration of training camp, and seem to have a leg up on their competition for the fourth line roster spots. While this may not seem like a traditional, grinding fourth line, it may have more potential than one may think.

The Devils’ lines seem to be shaping up like this:

  1. Mike Cammalleri – Travis Zajac – Jaromir Jagr
  2. Martin Havlat – Patrik Elias – Dainius Zubrus
  3. Ryane Clowe – Adam Henrique – Michael Ryder
  4. Tuomo Ruutu  TBD – Damien Brunner

Although head coach Peter DeBoer insisted that his top three lines are “not necessarily” set in stone, and implied that the top-line combination is in the”dating stage,” but there is a very high possibility that these are indeed the lines we will see on opening night in Philadelphia.

Something to keep in mind is that having Henrique, last season’s leading goal-scorer, on the third line is a testament to the depth of the Devils’ squad, and gives further reason to believe players of the caliber of Ruutu and Brunner could be relegated to the fourth line – which is not necessarily a bad thing.

“It doesn’t matter if you play on the fourth line or the first line. At least me, I’m going to play the same way. If I try to be somebody else, then I [won’t be] playing on the first or the fourth line. I’ll be somewhere else.” – Tuomo Ruutu

In the past, the Devils’ fourth line has consisted of a trio tasked with defending against the opposition’s top scoring line. Most recently, that role belonged to Stephen Gionta, Steve Bernier, and Ryan Carter.

While the “CBGB” line has done an admirable job in this role over the past three seasons or so, a line consisting of Ruutu and Brunner would certainly increase the offensive ability of the team, and for a team that ranked 27th in the NHL in goals scored a season ago, more offensive output would go a long way.

The issue with a line consisting of Ruutu and Brunner is who to place between them. Gulitti reported that the pair have been skating alongside Scott Gomez or Jacob Josefson for the majority of the duration of training camp. Gomez has impressed thus far, and may have a leg up on the competition.

But as evidenced by our poll on September 30, Devils fans have a desire to see prospect Reid Boucher earn one of the final roster spots. The problem with this is Boucher is not a center, nor are Ruutu or Brunner. Fellow prospect Stefan Matteau is also best-suited to play a wing position.

However, Gulitti also reported that DeBoer didn’t sound too optimistic that Boucher or Matteau would make the team out of training camp. DeBoer said:

"“They’re going to be NHL players and they’re knocking on the door right now. So, that’s good. And whether you start here Game 1, I don’t think that necessarily tells the whole tale. You look at an NHL season, there’s always going to be opportunities to either lose your job if you start here or gain a job when you get the opportunity to come up.”"

Unless line combinations are reconsidered, or Ruutu, Brunner, or someone else is placed into an unnatural center role, Gomez, Josefson, Gionta, or Carter are most likely to fill that role. Gomez, although in a small sample size, has shown he deserves a role on this team. Our poll on September 29 showed that 85 percent of voters would like to see Gomez make the team.

A line consisting of Ruutu-Gomez-Brunner would not only be an improvement over the fourth line the Devils have used in recent years, it would provide a speed and scoring dynamic that not many fourth lines in the NHL have.

How should the Devils handle their fourth line? Let us know in our poll below and join the conversation in our comments section.