On Jiri Tlusty’s Breakout Season Andrew Hirsh June 6, 2013 Carolina Hurricanes, Commentary, Eastern Conference In terms of cost versus production, you’d be hard-pressed to find an NHL player who was more valuable this season than Carolina Hurricanes winger Jiri Tlusty. Earning a modest $1.6 million pro-rated salary, Tlusty finished the lockout-shortened campaign fifth in the league in goals (23) and was a vital part of the Canes’ lethal top forward line. More remarkable than his overall goal total, though, is the rate in which he scored them: The 25-year-old potted all 23 of his tallies in 39 games — doing so after failing to light the lamp in his first nine contests. That output over the course of 82 games would give him 48 Gs. Yes, from February 9 to the end of the regular season, Tlusty was downright incredible; or, as they would say in the Czech Republic, “fantastický.” “He works, he plays the game the right way,” coach Kirk Muller told SunbeltHockey.com in February. “He’s easy to read off of. Offensively, when (his line-mates) use their size and strength to contain people and hold people off with the puck, he just finds the seams and he’s showing he can score at this level on a consistent basis.” For the record, here are the four guys who had more goals in 2013 than Jiri: Alex Ovechkin: 32 G; $9.5 million salary Steven Stamkos: 29 G; $7.5 million salary John Tavares: 28 G; $5.5 million salary Jeff Carter: 26 G; $5.27 million salary *** Following two major acquisitions this summer in the forms of Jordan Staal and Alex Semin, Tlusty was pushed down to the Canes’ third line when the 2013 season began. But by generating a lot of scoring chances and playing a strong two-way game, it became difficult for Muller to keep him out of the top six. Since being placed with Eric Staal and Semin, Tlusty has solidified the Canes’ first legitimate No. 1 line in several years. “I had to prove myself again this year, and I was ready for the challenge,” Tlusty said. “I just knew I had to keep playing the right way. When I work hard, it all comes together for me.” In a year mired by devastating injuries, unrealized potential and overall disappointment, Tlusty was one of the few major bright spots for the Canes. But can his rampant scoring pace translate to next season? That’s tough to say, though the numbers and history tell us his production will likely dip a good amount in 2013-14. Tlusty’s surprisingly high goal total boils down to his outrageous shooting percentage of 19.7%. Some perspective on that figure: after being traded from Edmonton to Los Angeles, Wayne Gretzky never again finished a season with a S% that high in his career. Sure, Tlusty is a talented kid; but his 2013 numbers are almost certainly unsustainable. If we delve into Tlusty’s statistics, you’ll notice that he really only excelled in two categories: shot percentage and goals. As the advanced stats crowd will tell you, neither of these two categories have much predictive value with just a 48-game sample size. Goal-based metrics are very difficult to analyze unless we’re looking at multiple years’ worth of data. Players score far too infrequently to give a large enough set of information to foretell future events; there is simply too much irregularity and luck involved with scoring. On the other hand, shot-based metrics provide us with a lot more to look at; and unfortunately, Tlusty’s Corsi and Fenwick ratings aren’t as impressive as the aforementioned numbers. *** All this said, Tlusty wasn’t scoring so much by sheer luck. What the numbers won’t tell you is that his shot selection was superb last year. He did a good job picking the corners and exploiting opposing goalies’ weaknesses, which hasn’t been talked about nearly enough. Tlusty also had a strong knack for driving to the net. Naturally, when you’re getting chances in the crease, you’re going to have a higher S% than from the circles, the point, even the slot. This is especially true when you convert on rebound chances — something Jiri did quite often last season. A few examples: – If you go through Tlusty’s highlights from last season, you’ll see a lot of these tallies scored on rebounds, and plenty more scored near the crease. Again, that high S% may have a bit to do with luck, but it was no accident. Additionally, having line-mates like Eric Staal and Semin — guys who can make plays, get shots on net and require lots of attention from opponents — aided Tlusty greatly last year and will continue to do so in 2013-14. “Jiri’s the solid guy on that line that reads off (E. Staal and Semin),” Muller told us. “When they’re playing, he’s always got their backs … He brings the structure to that line and gives the other two a little more flexibility to be more creative than the other guys.” *** One thing you’ll notice when watching Tlusty work in the offensive zone is the way he moves around. One second he’ll be fighting for possession behind the net, the next he’ll be high in the slot. This work ethic creates a lot of scoring chances — for him and his teammates on the ice. Said Muller: “He’s out a lot of times the third man high, and he’s out there digging it out, as well.” This play is a good example of his hustle: Tlusty carries the puck into the zone, takes a big hit, gets up, grinds it out in the corner and helps get the puck to Staal, who buries it. “I go down low when I need to, and I have to make sure there’s always a high guy — a third guy high — and give some good space for the defensemen to step up and make some plays,” he said. “I read the play from the other guys out there.” *** Given Tlusty’s accuracy, his work ethic, ability to drive to the net and elite line-mates, I believe he’ll continue to be a reliable goal-scorer for the Canes next year. Will he be among the top goal-scorers in the league? Probably not; but he should absolutely be worthy of a top-six role — perhaps even worthy of All Star consideration. Scheduled to be a restricted free agent after next season, Tlusty could garner a lot of attentions from other clubs as the 2014 off-season approaches. If a rival GM attempts to sign him to a lucrative offer sheet, it may be difficult for Rutherford to match. The Canes already have a lot of money tied up in forwards, and retaining Tlusty isn’t as high of a priority as retaining Justin Faulk, who is also set to be an RFA next summer. Obviously it would be ideal if both could be signed to long-term deals, but as we know, the Canes still operate under a fairly tight budget. Someone (*cough* Paul Holmgren *cough*) could easily interfere with Carolina’s plans. Regardless, it’ll be interesting to see how things pan out here. Everything taken into consideration, I predict Tlusty will finish 2013-14 with roughly 25 goals and 45 points. Until next fall… It was short and interesting season , we didn’t make the playoffs but excited about next year !! Thanks all the Caniacs.You guys are awesome — Jiri Tlusty (@J_T_19) May 1, 2013 Photo credits: Greg Thompson, Andy Martin Jr.