Jiri Tlusty: stop-gap or solution?

When you take a look at the scoring chance numbers for the Carolina Hurricanes this year, you’ll find a couple names near the top of the list that might surprise you. One of those is former first round draft pick and Toronto Maple Leafs cast-off Jiri Tlusty. I, along with many others, wondered if Tlusty would even make the team out of camp this year and even if he did, it was wondered if he would be nothing more than a fourth liner on this team. We’re a month into the season now and he already has half of his point total from last year (which is only six points) and is now playing on the first line with Eric Staal and Chad LaRose….what? Oh, I should also mention that he has the highest scoring chance percentage on the team at 63.9%. Again, what?

I know Tlusty always had a lot of talent and skill but I think most would agree that Canes fans (and hockey fans in general) didn’t have too high of expectations for him, so what he’s doing now is a pretty big surprise. The question is that can he keep this play up and improve on it or is this all just a flash in the pan? After the jump, we will examine some details of the 23-year old’s season to see just how impressive he’s really been.

 

Tlusty has seen his ice-time bounce around a lot this season. He started off on the second line with Jussi Jokinen and Chad LaRose, then he was moved to the fourth line for one game, was bumped up to the team’s “checking line” with Brandon Sutter and Patrick Dwyer for about a week and now finds himself on the first line with Eric Staal and Chad LaRose. What we can determine from that is Tlusty has been playing a big role on the team for the entire year, especially when playing on Sutter’s line because they are typically matched up with the opponent’s top lines. How has Tlusty performed in these roles, though?

When looking at his performance through the scoring chance data I’ve been tracking all season, Tlusty looks outstanding.

CF CA SC%
Tlusty/Staal/LaRose 14 8 63.6%
Tlusty w/ score tied 14 10 58.3%

(data is before Washington game)

This is Tlusty’s scoring chance data from when he was playing on the “first line” with LaRose and Staal along with his performance with the score tied (to eliminate scoring effects) and he’s done well in both areas. If you remember, I made a post a few weeks ago about how Eric Staal was unable to produce no matter what line he was on. Well, this line with Tlusty and LaRose has been the team’s most successful “first line” so far this season. Granted, this data is only covering a few games but I can’t argue with the results so far and Tlusty’s performance for the entire season has been pretty good overall when going by scoring chances, but his corsi data is another story.

The bold lines are Tlusty and the thinner lines are the team’s. As you can see, Tlusty is producing chances and is performing well above the team average but he is struggling in terms of driving the play. This is probably related to him playing on four different lines this year but it’s pretty confusing either way. I’m guessing the data looks this way because Tlusty has been producing chances but the Canes have been outshot on the regular this year and Tlusty has been playing in a lot of important situations when he was on the first and third lines. His corsi data is a little closer to the team average now than it was at the beginning of the season, so that might be the cause. However, this makes me wonder how much longer Tlusty will stick on the first line because while he is creating chances, it doesn’t appear that he’s driving the play much better than the rest of the team. He’s never scored more than 10 goals and 16 points in his career but keep in mind that he’s only 23 and has some potential so he might turn into a decent offensive player. 

The point is, for now, Tlusty is getting the job done but I’m not sure how long this will last or if he provides a long-term solution on the first line. Anyone can have a good month and get top-six minutes for half the year out of it (see Anthony Stewart w/ Winnipeg last year) but Tlusty is going to need to keep up this performance AND put some more points on the board if he wants to stick on the first line. If not, then he looks like he can at least be a quality bottom six player, which isn’t bad when you consider that Carolina didn’t give up much for him. The low corsi percentage worries me a lot, though.

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