Canes forward Tuomo Ruutu may be able to rejoin the lineup sooner than expected.

After Ruutu underwent hip surgery in December, it was believed he might need until the end of April to recover. General manager Jim Rutherford said then that Ruutu likely would miss the regular season but could return for the playoffs.

But Rutherford said this week that March 15 was the date doctors will decide if Ruutu can be cleared to return to practice. And Canes coach Kirk Muller said Sunday that once he's back in practices it may not take long for him to be ready to play.

"Hopefully by next week we get the green light from him," Muller said. "I think it will start off as team practices, then physical contact. He's a guy who has kept himself in pretty good shape. I think once it starts, as far as practices, I don't think he's too far off.