Jiri Tlusty’s breakout season

When Jim Rutherford traded Philippe Paradis for Jiri Tlusty back in 2009, not that much was made of it. Tlusty was known as one of the many “busts” of the Toronto Maple Leafs during the John Ferguson Jr. Era and it didn’t look like he would be more than a fringe-NHL player. Fast forward to 2012 and Tlusty is on-pace for a career high 17 goals and has shown some of his first-round skill at times. What a lot of people are wondering is if Tlusty is finally coming to his own or if this year is a complete fluke. As of right now, things are still unclear.

It is easy to forget that Tlusty is only 23 and isn’t near the prime of his career, so this season could be him continuing to progress as a player but he’s been given a lot more opportunities to succeed this year than he has in the past. Tlusty’s always had offensive talent but he’s never been given a chance to show it during his tenure with Carolina. Before this year, he was usually put on the fourth line and used in defensive situations. Now, he is playing a lot more minutes and is currently slotted at left wing on the first line with Eric Staal and Tuomo Ruutu. It makes you wonder how much of Tlusty’s success this year is related to him playing with stronger linemates because that usually helps a lot of players. If you look at Tlusty’s most frequent linemates, you’ll see that Staal is at the top of the list so Tlusty’s breakout season could be a product of playing with the captain. However, we’ve also seen him make some fantastic individual efforts this year, so it’s unfair to say that Staal is the only reason for Tlusty’s success.

After the jump, we’ll take a closer look at Tlusty’s season and see what the reason is for his emergence. He’s a RFA at the end of the year so finding out if this year is a complete fluke or not will be important when it comes time to re-sign him.

Going by underlying numbers, Tlusty is having an interesting season because there is a huge disparity between his corsi/possession numbers and his scoring chance stats. Going by corsi, Tlusty looks awful and appears that this year is a total fluke for him. He has the third worst corsi relative rating among regular forwards with only Anthony Stewart and Tim Brent are getting pinned in their own zone more. However, the Canes are seeing 50.6% of the scoring chances go in their favor with Tlusty on the ice, so there is definitely some value to Tlusty’s game. Only six regular forwards on the team have a scoring chance rate above 50%, so he must be doing something right. I am not sure what the reason is for such a big difference between the two stats but it will be something to look into in the future. For now, we’re going to take a look at how much Tlusty’s been relying on his linemates.

First, I went through every goal and assist Tlusty has recorded this year and looked at who his linemates were on each one to see who contributed the most to his goals. The results paint a predictable picture.

Goals Assists Points
Staal 5 5 10
Ruutu 4 3 7
Sutter 6 1 7
Dwyer 4 2 6
LaRose 1 2 3
Brent 1 1 2
Stewart 1 0 1

Staal has been on-ice for nearly half of Tlusty’s points and it makes sense when you consider that he was his most-frequent linemate this year. However, if you go down the list you will see that Brandon Sutter has been on-ice for exactly half of Tlusty’s goals (more than half because I didn’t include the penalty shot). Remember, those two and Patrick Dwyer played together for most of the first half of the year and Tlusty scored half of his goals then. Maybe Staal isn’t the main reason for Tlusty’s break-out season?

Looking at goals and points is one thing but there is a lot of luck and variance involved with both, so it might not be the best way to go for judging a player. Also, it makes sense for Staal and Sutter to be on ice for most of Tlusty’s goals because he has played on a line with them for the majority of the year. The results are predictable in a way. What will give us a better idea of how reliant Tlusty has been on his linemates this year is a WOWY chart using the scoring chance data that I have been tracking all season. What this does is show Tlusty’s scoring chance data with and without a certain player on the ice.

Tlusty and Staal have been one hell of a duo this year and both of them are noticeably weaker when they aren’t playing together. The difference is that Staal is a borderline positive player with other linemates while Tlusty is completely underwater. Tlusty has also played well with Ruutu and while both of them are worse away from each other, it isn’t nearly as extreme as the difference between Staal & Tlusty. When looking at how worse Tlusty is without Staal, I think you can come to the conclusion that some of his success this year is due to playing with him on the first line.

On the flipside, Tlusty is much better when he isn’t playing with Brandon Sutter and Patrick Dwyer and there’s a very plausible reason for this. Sutter & Dwyer are known for playing on the team’s shutdown line against tough competition and Tlusty was in that group for awhile. Tlusty’s defense is underrated but he clearly isn’t suited for that kind of role, whereas he plays much better with top-six minutes and better linemates. Sutter also seems to do a lot better when he isn’t playing with Tlusty and the addition of Andreas Nodl means that he doesn’t have to. You will notice that Tlusty also played better with some other frequent top-sixers like Jussi Jokinen and Chad LaRose.

Other players Tlusty has done better with are Jamie McBain, Jaroslav Spacek, Bryan Allen and Joni Pitkanen. Players who he has done better without are Anthony Stewart, Tim Brent, Tim Gleason (probably the same reason as Sutter/Dwyer), Justin Faulk and Jay Harrison.

Based off this, I think we can conclude that Staal is one of the reasons for Tlusty’s breakout campaign. I’m not saying that he is the only reason but Staal is the type of player that makes his teammates better and that’s clearly been the case with Tlusty. Does this mean that this season is a total fluke for him?

Well, his shooting percentage is a bit high (13.2% compared to his career average of 11.5%) and so is his PDO (1011) so that’s worth keeping an eye on but his strong scoring chance numbers have me thinking that this year isn’t a fluke. Still, if I was Jim Rutherford, I would take these factors into consideration when it comes time to re-sign him in June/July. Tlusty is still young and can improve but I am not convinced that he is a first liner yet.