Tootoo on right track

KEN WIEBE, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 7:03 AM ET

DETROIT -- He remains one of the most hated guys in the NHL to play against, but there is no doubt Jordin Tootoo is coming of age.

The spunky Nashville Predators winger still has the ability to change the complexion of a hockey game with a bone-jarring hit or by dropping his gloves for an old-fashioned scrap.

But the Churchill-born and Nunavut-raised Tootoo has shown maturity this season and is no longer a one-dimensional player, something that was evident at Joe Louis Arena Thursday night when he scored the Predators' lone goal on a nifty deflection in a 3-1 loss to the Detroit Red Wings.

Tootoo's 11 goals and 18 points in 63 games were both career-highs and the 25-year-old was rewarded with a two-year contract extension worth $1.95 million US on Jan. 31.

Tootoo was one of the most effective Predators on the ice in Game 1, finishing with 16 shifts for 12:04 and three shots on goal to go with a plus-one rating.

"Toots has had a little bit of a label on his back for the last couple of years," said Predators head coach Barry Trotz. "He's had a career year, he plays the game hard. He's scoring goals and there's more to him than just being a big hitter. He can still hit like a truck and I think he can be a factor in this series."

You could say that Tootoo has already been a factor in this series.

What you didn't see on the score sheet were his two big hits on Red Wings forward Dallas Drake and another on Tomas Holmstrom.

Aside from his first goal in 13 Stanley Cup playoff games, Tootoo also drew a penalty and raised some eyebrows by showing restraint.

On two occasions, Tootoo came together with Red Wings forward Darren McCarty. The two exchanged pleasantries but no punches were thrown.

"(Tootoo) has really turned his game around," said Predators goalie Dan Ellis. "He made a name for himself by being a little bit of a pest and a hard-nosed player, but he's really developed the other aspects of his game. He's become a lot more defensive and he's chipping in goals. He's had some big goals for us the entire season long. And he is a little more disciplined now. He picks his spots and doesn't retaliate as much as he draws stuff."

Tootoo realizes his energetic style of play - some might go so far as to call it reckless abandon - is what got him to the NHL and will keep him there, but now he is showing signs of the player who helped out offensively as a member of the Brandon Wheat Kings of the Western Hockey League (where he had 93 goals and 209 points in 220 games over four seasons).

"It's part of my job to get under their skin and be a physical player," said Tootoo. "You don't necessarily have to make the big hit all of the time. I'm not going to back down. I'm going to keep playing physical and try to create penalties."

Despite losing the series opener, Tootoo believes the Predators have what it takes to rally and win the series.

"We know we can play with them," said Tootoo. "We have a great opportunity to turn heads here."


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