TORONTO - Jiri Tlusty will make his NHL debut with the Toronto Maple Leafs against the Penguins in Pittsburgh on Thursday night.
The plan is to have a look at the 19-year-old Czech forward alongside Nik Antropov.
General manager John Ferguson was on the phone to Tlusty and defenceman Staffan Kronwall less than three hours after a 5-4 shootout loss to the Atlanta Thrashers on Tuesday night to tell them to be at the Leafs' Wednesday practice instead of reporting for duty with the AHL Toronto Marlies.
The Leafs won't know the exact makeup of their defence corps until after the morning skate in Pittsburgh. Bryan McCabe has a "slight strain" of an undisclosed body part and will probably play but, if he sits, the Leafs will have enough bodies to compensate.
Tlusty had an unspectacular goal and two assists in five AHL games but Ferguson and Maurice are making changes - they'd recently summoned forward Simon Gamache and defenceman Anton Stralman from the Marlies - because of injuries and unhappiness about getting only nine of a possible 20 points while playing eight of their first 10 games at home.
Tlusty was Toronto's first pick, 13th overall, in the 2006 entry draft. Last season, he had 13 goals and 21 assists in 37 OHL games with the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds.
"He skates and handles the puck and thinks the game real well," said Maurice.
Antropov leads the Leafs with seven goals.
"We're trying to find the right mix of players for him," said Maurice. "He's creating some things we'd like to see finished."
Chad Kilger will be moved to another line to make room for Tlusty.
"I will try to work hard and we'll see," said Tlusty, who watched the Leafs lose on TV before being awakened at 1 a.m. by Ferguson.
"It was a very nice call for me," he said. "I was very happy because it's my dream and hopefully I will play good and hopefully I'll stay (with the Leafs)."
He immediately phoned home and told his mother as she was readying to leave for her teaching job.
Kronwall, whose older brother, Niklas, plays for the Detroit Red Wings, had turned his phone off. Ferguson left a message with the 25-year-old Swede's building concierge and he got it when he took his wife's Shih Tzu, Ernie, for a morning walk.
"I didn't feel really comfortable with the Marlies," said Kronwall. "I'm glad to be back with the Leafs."
Kronwall started the 2005-2006 season with the Leafs and got into 34 games but he's been hampered by injuries.
"We've got some guys down there (with the Marlies) who have performed very well," said Maurice. "All of them we've seen here so far had really good training camps.
"They continued their good play and we either through injury or maybe average play we'd like to see some of these kids getting a chance. I don't know that we're expecting a young guy to steal a job and dominate the league but they've got to start somewhere and you've got to get them into your lineup and make changes when you're not happy with the overall performance of your team."
Working newcomers in on the road is best, said Maurice.
"You can get those kind of guys into the lineup without them feeling the same kind of pressure with the oohs and aahs (at home) if they make a bad play," he explained. "We're not bringing them in and saying, 'Alright kid, carry the mail here.'
"Most importantly, I'd like to see them get enough minutes to feel they had an opportunity to show what they can do."
The Leafs were happy to hit the road. After Pittsburgh, they go to New York to play the Rangers on Saturday.
"It's time for us to play some games on the road," said Matt Stajan. "We haven't really had a chance to bond as a team on the road - go for dinner, hang out - and it's always nice to do that.
"We've played a little tense at home. It just seems as if we're squeezing our sticks too tight on home ice. We'll play a simpler game (on the road) and I think it'll help us out and we'll be a lot better. Every single guy in this dressing room is looking forward to the trip."
Mats Sundin was tied with Detroit's Henrik Zetterberg for most NHL points with 17.
"He seems to have an awful lot of jump at both ends," Maurice said of the Leafs' captain.
Toronto is 29th in goals-against average in the 30-team league and Sundin has been doing all he can to play a complete two-way game.
"He understands, as a good leader will, that we're struggling defensively so he has to show he's willing to pitch in," said Maurice. "He's a conscientious player.
"Having that kind of leadership is so critical when confidence is a little bit shaky."
The league's crackdown on obstruction fouls has helped Sundin and other veterans, said Maurice.
"The changes in the game they've made over the last two years is going to allow more of these guys to play longer and to be great longer," he said. "He's still carrying one guy on his back behind the net but it's not two and three, which is a nice change for him."