In one year, Jiri Tlusty learned what it was like to move out of the house in which he grew up in Kladno, Czech Republic to play hockey in Canada.
He was injured for six weeks and came back with a spectacular playoff.
He learned a new language and cemented his standing as one of the top prospects in the Toronto Maple Leafs development chain.
All in one year.
It’s hard to reckon what has advanced faster with the Leafs 19-year-old right winger, his game or his grasp of the language.
Tlusty was in Toronto to take part in the Leafs prospect camp. Last year, at the same camp, he could barely string together a few words. Now, he speaks in paragraphs. Short paragraphs, but paragraphs nonetheless.
Tlusty won’t be 20 until March and last season was a season-long orientation session.
He played six games for the Marlies, scoring three times. The Leafs sent him to the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds but a high ankle sprain knocked him out of the World Junior Hockey Championships.
Bouts of homesickness were tempered by visits from home.
“This was the first time in North America,” said Tlusty, the 13th overall pick in the 2006 draft. “ My parents came to Sault Ste. Marie and that was good for me When I was injured, I went to Czech Republic for Christmas time. “
There is in Jiri Tlusty’s stories all the signs of a kid who wants to stick.
“His grasp of the language really showed he was really committed to doing it here,” said Leafs coach Paul Maurice. “This is his future home and he’s willing to do all the things, work out, train, learn the language, get to know the people in the organization. It’s really a great sign of maturity.”
So was Tlusty’s performance in the postseason. After putting up 34 points in 37 regular season games, Tlusty scored nine times and carded 17 points in 13 games.
“We played good in the playoffs,” he said. “We were in seventh place and we placed Saginaw. They were favoured and we won the series. We played against London and it went to a seventh game. That was good for the whole city.”
“The interesting thing about the playoffs is that a large number of first-year players see the end of the season as the light at the end of the tunnel,” said Maurice.
“They say to themselves, ‘I’ve got next year’ because their whole future is ahead of them. In the American League, it’s the veteran guys who say ‘this might be my last year’. Those are the guys driving the bus. You like to see the young guy who says, I’d like to win the Calder Cup this year. I’d like to see the Memorial Cup. It’s the kid who says, I don’t want to lose who shows a lot.”
Tlusty and the Leafs both hope this season will be spent with the Marlies.
“We’ll see what happens. I hope to play in Toronto,” he said.
“He’s got good speed, good agility,” said Leafs Director of Player Personnel Mike Penny. “He’s quick off the mark and he skates well with the puck. He can shoot on the fly. I see a big upside for him. He’s a year older and he seems to have a lot more confidence in himself. So far everything has gone just as planned.”
“We’d like to see him play in the American League. He’s going to have every opportunity to do that. I don’t think he’ll have a problem accomplishing it.”