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Hurricanes' Tuomo Ruutu set career highs in goals (26), assists (28) and points (54) last season. ((Winslow Townson/Associated Press))

The Carolina Hurricanes believe Tuomo Ruutu is a key to their future and will pay him handsomely to fulfill the role as a top-scoring forward.

General manager Jim Rutherford announced Thursday that Ruutu, 26, has agreed to a three-year contract worth $11.4 million US.

"We are very happy to have Tuomo under contract on a long-term deal and to avoid [salary] arbitration," Rutherford said in a statement.

"He is still quite young at 26, and is one of the cornerstones of our team moving forward."

The Finnish left-winger is coming off a 2008-09 NHL season in which he established career highs in goals (26), assists (28) and points (54).

The six-foot, 200-pound Ruutu also led the Hurricanes in hits (228) and was the team's recipient of the Good Guy Award, given for co-operation with the local media.

Ruutu made his first appearance in the Stanley Cup playoffs this past spring, scoring one goal and four points in 18 games.

Drafted by Chicago ninth overall in 2001, he has amassed 78 goals, 173 points and 354 penalty minutes in 324 NHL contests with the Blackhawks and Hurricanes.

Ruutu also has competed in eight international tournaments, including the 2004 World Cup of Hockey and world championships in 2006, 2007 and 2008.