Jiri Tlusty’s Journey to Carolina’s Top Line

(Photo: Andy Martin Jr)
Jiri Tlusty has helped lead a Carolina resurgence that few have expected. (Photo: Andy Martin Jr)

When the Carolina Hurricanes traded their latest first round pick, at the time, in Phillipe Paradis to the Toronto Maple Leafs for Jiri Tlusty in 2009 some fans thought the Hurricanes had overpaid. But three years after the trade happened, Tlusty is showing why GM Jim Rutherford made the trade.

When the Czech forward arrived in 2009, he was a forward that played sparingly in the NHL. Tlusty played 58 games for a Maple Leafs team that finished last in the Northeast. In the next two seasons, Tlusty played 16 games for the Leafs while scoring at a point-per-game pace in the AHL for the Toronto Marlies before being traded to Carolina. Tlusty split the rest of the 2009-10 season between the Hurricanes and their farm affiliate, the Albany River Rats. In the 2011 season, he played in 57 games for the Hurricanes and became a full-time player for the club in the 2012 season. Tlusty posted career numbers in goals and assists with 17 and 19, respectively, in 79 games.

During the lockout, the six-foot left winger went back home to the Czech Republic to play on a stacked Kladno team that featured Jaromir Jagr, Tomas Plekanec and Marek Zidlicky. While there, Tlusty scored 23 points in 24 games for the club. When the lockout was almost over Tuomu Ruutu needed hip surgery in January, causing the Hurricanes  to fill a forward spot in the top six. Besides Tlusty, other candidates included Patrick Dwyer and Drayson Bowman. Tlusty ended up earning the left wing spot on the first line with Eric Staal and Alex Semin.

The new line has done wonders for the Hurricanes in more ways than one. Tlusty has 22 points in 26 games and is tenth in the league for goals with 13. Meanwhile Tlusty’s line mates have had a rejuvenated season compared to last year. Staal has scored over a point-per-game pace with 32 points in 26 games and more surprisingly is a plus 20 compared to his minus 20 last season.

Semin has four less points than Eric Staal in the same amount of games, after coming over from Washington in the offseason. The Russian forward’s last season with the Capitals was one filled with inconsistency that led to only 58 points for Semin. The line has scored 82 points in 26 games and helped lead the Hurricanes to the top of the Southeast Division.

Some of the Hurricanes success must be credited to Tlusty who has gone above expectations in replacing Ruutu in the top six and helped Staal and Semin reach the levels they have played at in previous seasons. As for the future, Tlusty is signed until the summer of 2014 and if he can continue to score like he has this season, he can expect an increase over the $1.5 million he makes now.