Tracking the Storm

Tlusty Solidifies Role as Top-Six Forward

Thursday, 03.29.2012 / 2:28 PM ET / Tracking the Storm
By Michael Smith
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Tlusty Solidifies Role as Top-Six Forward
When the Carolina Hurricanes acquired Jiri Tlusty from the Toronto Maple Leafs in Dec. 2009, president and general manager Jim Rutherford projected Tlusty as a top-six forward.

Michael Smith
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Just over three years later, Tlusty has fulfilled that projection.

“It’s definitely my best season, and it’s something I always thought I could do,” he said. “I wish the team would make the playoffs, because that would be the best season.”

“Every individual or athlete has different ways of getting where they want to get to,” head coach Kirk Muller said. “[Tlusty] ran into some injury problems and maybe jumped into the NHL a bit too early. But, everything has come together for him right now. He’s a real professional. He keeps his mouth quiet. Whatever you ask of him, he does it. He works hard, he’s a smart player and he’s got all the skill.”

A staple on the first line with Eric Staal, Tlusty has posted career numbers in 74 games this season. With 36 points (17g, 19a), he ranks fourth in scoring on the team and has better than doubled his previous career high of 16 points. With five games remaining on the schedule, it’s not out of the question for him to achieve the 20-goal or 40-point mark. If he were to score at the pace he has in his last 22 games (18 points), he would record approximately 67 points in a full 82-game season.

This type of offensive production is what scouts saw when Toronto drafted him 13th overall in 2006. It’s what Carolina’s scouts saw when they targeted him in the same draft, only to keep track of him in the years to follow. Now in his fifth National Hockey League season, Tlusty still is just 24 years old.

Perhaps the determining factor in his success this season? Staying healthy, which he's done for all but three games.

“This year, I feel healthy and my body works with me. That’s the biggest thing,” he said. “When your body works with you, you just enjoy every moment out there. It’s amazing just to go out there and play with nothing hurting or nothing bothering you.

“I feel good right now,” he said, before knocking on the wood of his locker stall. “I hope to stay healthy and have a big summer of training.”

Coming into training camp with a full bill of health has been a struggle for the Slany, Czech Republic native. Because of off-season knee surgery, Tlusty missed a large chunk of training camp last season and was hesitant and admittedly worried about his knee in his first games back. A few months later in December, he suffered a shoulder injury, causing him to be sidelined for 16 games.

“It’s so tough when you’re on your own,” he said. “In your head, you just ask yourself, ‘Why? Why do you get hurt?’ When you’re healthy, you just focus on hockey.”

When it comes to staying healthy, however, sometimes it just can’t be helped.

“You need to be in good condition, but sometimes it’s just unlucky,” he said of injuries.

A full summer’s worth of training helped Tlusty, who said he loves to run, feel much stronger coming into to training camp this season. In the first month of regular season play, he was seeing double-digit ice time and recorded six points in 12 games, already half of his point total from 2010-11. A 10-game pointless streak followed, though, and his ice time dipped. Muller put him on the first line alongside Staal, and in February, he rattled off a nine-game point streak, coinciding with Staal’s 12-game point streak. That line was clicking, and that chemistry remained, even with injuries forcing a shuffle on the opposite wing.

“Chemistry is big. He’s shown that he can play with Staalsy,” Muller said. “He’s good and creative with the puck, and he’s got the skill to play at that level. But he’s also really responsible without it, and I think that’s really important for him to continue playing in the top six.”

Signed to a one-year deal last summer, Tlusty is a restricted free agent at the conclusion of this season. For his part, Tlusty said he doesn’t think about the contract. According to Muller, Tlusty fits into the team’s plans moving forward.

“You don’t know what kind of personnel will change over the summer, but do I feel comfortable with him staying [in the top six]? I definitely do,” he said.

A 25-goal, 60-plus-point producer at the American Hockey League level, Tlusty is beginning to see those numbers translate at this level. It might have taken a few years – and a few untimely injuries – but it just confirms the confidence Tlusty had in himself since the beginning.

“I think I can be a top six player,” he said. “Now it’s just trying to prove to everybody that I can do it.”



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STANDINGS

EASTERN CONFERENCE
  TEAM GP W L OT GF GA PTS
1 p - NYR 82 53 22 7 248 187 113
2 y - MTL 82 50 22 10 214 184 110
3 x - TBL 82 50 24 8 259 206 108
4 x - WSH 82 45 26 11 237 199 101
5 x - NYI 82 47 28 7 245 224 101
6 x - DET 82 43 25 14 231 211 100
7 x - OTT 82 43 26 13 232 208 99
8 x - PIT 82 43 27 12 217 204 98
9 BOS 82 41 27 14 209 201 96
10 FLA 82 38 29 15 198 213 91
11 CBJ 82 42 35 5 227 248 89
12 PHI 82 33 31 18 212 223 84
13 NJD 82 32 36 14 176 209 78
14 CAR 82 30 41 11 183 219 71
15 TOR 82 30 44 8 206 257 68
16 BUF 82 23 51 8 153 269 54

STATS

2014-2015 REGULAR SEASON
SKATERS: GP G A +/- Pts
E. Staal 77 23 31 -13 54
J. Faulk 82 15 34 -19 49
E. Lindholm 81 17 22 -23 39
V. Rask 80 11 22 -14 33
J. Skinner 77 18 13 -24 31
N. Gerbe 78 10 18 -14 28
R. Nash 68 8 17 -10 25
J. Staal 46 6 18 -6 24
J. Liles 57 2 20 -9 22
J. McClement 82 7 14 -7 21
 
GOALIES: W L OT Sv% GAA
C. Ward 22 24 5 .910 2.40
A. Khudobin 8 17 6 .900 2.72