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Tlusty Could Play Prominent Role

by Paul Branecky / Carolina Hurricanes
Jiri Tlusty officially earned a place on the 2010-11 Hurricanes roster by signing a one-year contract on Friday, but his spot was essentially locked up far sooner than that.

Paul Branecky
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Although Tlusty’s one-way deal, which does not include an American Hockey League salary should he be reassigned, confirms plans for him to be with the Hurricanes for all of next season, that likely would have been the case regardless of his contract. 

As a 22-year-old with significant NHL experience (92 games played), Tlusty is no longer exempt from waivers and would need to clear that process before he could be assigned to Charlotte of the AHL, two-way deal or not. In the unlikely event that he cleared waivers, a two-way contract would only serve to pay him less in the minors. That becomes a moot point if he was never going to go there in the first place, as waiving the talented forward acquired last season for 2009 first-round draft choice Philippe Paradis is a chance the Hurricanes will almost certainly not be willing to take.

That being said, the organization’s management and coaches are more than comfortable with Tlusty on the NHL roster next season. While the Canes have high hopes, the significance of his role, at least to start, will depend on how he performs in training camp.

“If he gets off to a slow start, he’ll have to start on the fourth line,” said General Manager Jim Rutherford, who considers Tlusty to be strictly a left wing despite his official listing as a center. “If he plays the way we think he’s capable of, he’ll play with Brandon Sutter or somebody else on a line that can play against the other team’s top lines.”

Coach Paul Maurice has often compared Tlusty to Jussi Jokinen due to both players’ advanced sense of the game and responsible two-way play, but his developmental path may more closely resemble Sutter’s. Unusually, both players were NHL-ready defensively before their offensive skills began to shine.

Although the Hurricanes already consider Tlusty to be a solid player, they’re hoping that he can have a scoring breakout similar to the one Sutter experienced last season and thus begin to fully reach his potential as the 13th overall draft pick by Toronto in 2006.

“Jiri is a very, very smart player, really understands the game and does all the little things you need to do,” said Rutherford. “He sees the ice well, he can check and we think he has the skill level to be at least a 20-goal scorer. He has not shown that yet at this level, but that’s what we’re hoping for with him.”

In reassigning him to Albany in February of last season following a prolonged 16-game stint in the NHL, the Hurricanes were planning to let Tlusty, who has historically scored just under a point per game at the AHL level, gain offensive confidence before recalling him later in the season. That was the one thing lacking from his NHL performance, as he had opportunities to add to the six points he posted with the big club.

However, the injury bug soon hit. He was forced to sit out 15 contests soon after re-joining the River Rats and later missed the final three games of their playoff run, leading to knee surgery in April. The Hurricanes do not expect any long-term effects from that procedure and plan for him to be fully recovered for camp in September.

“We feel very comfortable that there wasn’t extra damage done on the knee, according to [Head Trainer] Pete Friesen,” said Rutherford.

While Tlusty will not have to duke it out with the rest of the Hurricanes’ young prospects for a spot on the team, competition that figures to be intense, Rutherford does not envision that affecting the player’s attitude or sense of urgency this fall. Come next off-season, Tlusty will have the opportunity to earn a raise as he becomes a restricted free agent once again.

“He’s coming in at the minimum salary, and that’s not where he’s going to want to stay,” said Rutherford. “This is a very important year for him and is going to establish where he and his salary fit into the team long-range. This is no time to take it easy. This is a time to push harder.”

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