When the Hurricanes announced their lines for opening night back in October, one of the surprises was having Jiri Tlusty placed on the first line. For the majority of his career in Carolina, Tlustly was never more than a guy who could be used for around 10 minutes a night in a checking role. The Canes decided to keep him around for another year at a cost near the league minimum and they ended up getting a lot for money with him. Tlusty set career highs in goals, points and looked more like the player the Toronto Maple Leafs drafted in the first round a few years ago.
The decision to place Tlusty in the top-six at the beginning of the year doesn't look as confusing now as he was a regular there for most of 2011-12. He was actually one of Eric Staal's most common linemates and the two surprisingly showed some great chemistry together. Tlusty's career season earned him a new contract as he will be with the Hurricanes for the next two years at about $1.6 mil. per season.
There is no doubt that Tlusty deserved this extension and I'm very happy about the season he had but I can't help but feel a tad skeptical about the chances of him having another year like this. Tlusty is still young and has been able to score at relatively high levels in other leagues, so this year could be just him growing as a player. Unfortunately, his underlying numbers don't quite agree with that narrative. Tlusty is improving but his success this season was largely dependent on two things; Eric Staal and good luck. A detailed look at this after the jump.
Jiri Tlusty 2011-12 Scoring Chances
Average TOI/G: 14:54
Even Strength Scoring Chance% Fwd Rank: 8/18
Even Strength Scoring Chance Diff/60 Fwd Rank: 8/18
QualComp Fwd Ranking: 6/12
OZ Start%: 47.8%
Tlusty was used throughout the top line this year but he was used mainly on the first line for the last few months of the season. However, he played less minutes than most of Carolina's top forwards (Staal, Skinner, Ruutu) and was usually kept on the bench whenever the Canes had a powerplay. However, he was a regular on the second penalty killing unit and wasn't given soft minutes, so the coaching staff trusted him slightly more than other since he was protected. He normally played on Eric Staal or Brandon Sutter's lines and tough minutes come with the territory when you play alongside those two. In short, Tlusty played a relatively important role but was limited in some areas.
Scoring Chances by Season Segment
TCF = Total Scoring Chances for at even strength, TCA = Total Scoring Chances against at even strength, SCF = Even strength chances for during segment, SCA = Even strength scoring chances against at even strength, Segment% = Scoring chance percentage during segment, Team% = Hurricanes even strength scoring chance percentage during segment
Season Segment Line Graph
What sticks out like a sore thumb here is the great start to the year Tlusty had followed by an immediate downturn. Something I noticed with Tlusty's numbers throughout the season was that his scoring chance numbers were much better than his Corsi data, which had him completely underwater, and that was mainly because of how good he played for the first 10 games. The strong numbers from his first 10 games of the season buoyed his overall average and made him look a lot better than he actually was, something that is a lot more noticeable when you break his season down into segments. He performed above the team average in only three segments and controlled only 50% of the scoring chances he was on ice for in only two. That isn't promising information in regards to him improving on this season or even repeating his 17 goal performance.
That isn't to say that this season was a complete fluke for him because he did shoot the puck a lot more than he did in previous seasons but his was probably a result of him playing more minutes than he ever has before. Being on the first line for a good part of the season, he was given more opportunities to succeed and he was able to take advantage of this by having a career season. The Canes were in dire need of a guy who could finish off plays on the top line and that's what Tlusty gave them. He shot a pretty high rate of 12.4% and I have doubts that it will carry over into next season but his career shooting percentage is 11.4%, so maybe he does have an underrated finishing ability.
When thinking about what kind of role Tlusty will play next season, that's a good question. I am sure that the Canes want someone better than him for the first line but they did sign him to an extension, so they might see him in their future plans, too. As a player that can drive possession, Tlusty has some promise based on his zone start/finish numbers even if they aren't translating to shots. His counting stats this year probably have some people thinking that he can be a scoring winger, but I need to see another year of this before I make that claim. The chances of him being a useful player are about the same as him becoming the next Gilbert Brule and completely falling off the map.
One thing that was legitimate with Tlusty was his success with Eric Staal, something that might keep him on the top line next season if the team can't acquire anyone else.
Tlusty and Staal were very impressive when they were playing together but one thing you'll notice is that Tlusty's numbers took a plunge away from Staal. The same thing happened when he played with Jussi Jokinen and Chad LaRose. This likely means that Tlusty needs to be with good linemates to succeed because he was able to do well when he was with the Canes best player and struggled when he was not. Although, you could argue that the situations he was used in contribute to this, as well. Whenever he wasn't with Staal, he played with Brandon Sutter and was used in a shutdown role. Sutter plays the toughest minutes on the team and Tlusty clearly wasn't up for that kind of role despite being good defensively in previous seasons. Sutter was also clearly better when he didn't have to drag Tlusty with him.
The biggest concern I have regarding next season is how Tlusty will fare when he isn't playing with Eric Staal. The outlook isn't very promising, especially if he gets moved back to the shutdown line with Sutter. On the bright side, Tlusty was able to take a big step forward this season. Maybe next year he can take another step forward and become more effective territorially. That could be what keeps him in the top-six.