The Carolina Hurricanes cannot hit the reset button on their 2009-10 season, but perhaps their newest player can get a reboot on his career.
Jiri Tlusty, who was acquired from Toronto Thursday for 2009 first-round pick Philippe Paradis, knows the pressures of playing in Toronto as well as nearly anyone.
As a rookie in 2007, he found himself in the middle of a media maelstrom over some racy photos that accidentally made their way on to the Web. The Toronto tabloids had a field day, splashing some of the pictures on their front pages. He never really outran those 200-point headlines in Toronto. In coming to Carolina, he will not only get the chance to shake away his rough introduction to life in the NHL, but will likely be afforded more of a chance than he ever received with the Maple Leafs.
With four days off between games, many thought Hurricanes GM Jim Rutherford would be wheeling and dealing to try to shake up his team, be it for the future or the present. What no one expected was for Rutherford to deal the player he selected in the first round less than six months ago for an unproven — albeit talented and promising — 21-year-old former 13th overall pick.
Tlusty has played parts of three seasons with the Maple Leafs, but has spent most of his time with the AHL’s Toronto Marlies. The Czech-born forward is not an unknown to the Hurricanes — coach Paul Maurice was the bench boss with the Leafs when the teenager played 58 games in the NHL in 2007-08, registering 10 goals and six assists in less than 11 minutes a night. As for Paradis, we hardly knew ya — he was in Raleigh for prospect conditioning camp this summer and gone just a few months after joining the organization.
Both Rutherford and Toronto GM Brian Burke gave their respective reasons for the move, but in both cases there is much more than meets the ear.
Burke told the Toronto Sun that Tlusty was unable to perform despite repeated chances at the NHL level, while Rutherford said acquiring him gave the team a prospect further along in his development and closer to contributing.
Rutherford has, at times, shown an impatience with the development of prospects. But not this time. It's clear this move is about one — or more — of three things:
- Carolina realized they missed the mark with Paradis and wanted to cut their losses before his value was diminished.
- Rutherford has had his eye on Tlusty for some time and, with Paradis struggling with Shawinigan, saw an opportunity to get a player he coveted. Look no further than the acquisitions of Justin Williams and Tim Gleason as examples of Rutherford targeting a player and, eventually, getting him.
- This is the start of something bigger.
As for Burke, it's tough to understand how he could claim Tlusty was given a fair shake in Toronto. Yes, he got a 58-game showcasing in 2007-08. But, as mentioned earlier, he was just a teen and not afforded much ice time. Since then, Tlusty's chances have been limited. Last year he played just 14 games, nine of which came before Burke joined the Leafs. In a five-game January recall, Tlusty had four assists — including three Jan. 15 6-4 Toronto win at the RBC Center — in around 13 minutes of ice time. This year he played two games the end of October, going pointless in about 12 minutes a night. That's seven games Burke saw Tlusty in the Leafs blue and white.
With the Marlies, Tlusty has been dominant at times, scoring 43 goals and 60 assists in 105 AHL games. Want more proof? He was the AHL’s player of the month last February, registering a staggering 12 goals and 11 assists in just 11 games, including this five-goal effort:
But with Phil Kessel in the fold — at the cost of first-round picks the next two years, with next year’s looking like a top-three choice — Burke has little use for a skilled forward who doesn't bring the pugnacious style he prefers. Does Paradis provide that? Time will tell. Paradis can certainly be characterized as a project, probably closer to five years from getting an NHL shot than one or two. More than anything, this is about Burke restocking his cupboards with young talent that doesn't need to be paid (Tlusty will be an RFA at season’s end), something the team is lacking because of the Kessel deal and pre-Burke wasting of draft picks. Paradis also adds size, which Burke loves and he's sorely lacking up front on his current roster that sports its share of sub-six foot players.
For his part, Tlusty isn't undersized — the Hurricanes list him at 6 feet, 209 pounds, roughly the same size as Tuomo Ruutu — but he definitely is more of a skill player than Paradis, who was projected as a third-line, gritty forward heading into last year's draft. Tlusty, as Rutherford said, has the skill set to play among the top-six.
For now, Tlusty is expected to join the AHL’s River Rats. But with Rutherford searching for deals that can help reshape his team going forward, Tlusty’s chance should come sooner rather than later.
Picture that: a chance at redeeming yourself.
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Trade Me Toronto .... PLEASE!
Since 2000, the Leafs have dealt away five of their seven first-round picks (only the last two, 2008’s Luke Schenn and 2009’s Nazim Kadri, have survived), with the Leafs coming out on the wrong side of all five.
- 2000: Brad Boyes, 24th overall — The Leafs dealt Boyes, Alyn McCauley and a first-round pick (2003, became Boston defenseman Mark Stuart) for Owen Nolan. Nolan played just 83 games in two seasons with the Leafs, getting just 26 goals and 34 assists. Boyes, now with St. Louis, had a combined 76 goals and 132 points the past two seasons.
- 2001: Carlo Colaiacovo, 17th overall — The Leafs gave up on the injury-proned defenseman just more than a year ago, sending him and Alexander Steen (more on him in a second) to St. Louis for Lee Stempniak. Colaiacovo has been much improved in St. Louis, getting five goals and 33 assists in 79 games since the deal. Stempniak has 16 goals and 26 assists in 87 games.
- 2002: Alexander Steen, 24th overall — Steen hasn't thrived in St. Louis, but when you couple him with Colaiacovo, it's another clear loss for the Leafs. Steen has seven goals and 19 assists in 72 games with the Blues.
- 2005: Tuukka Rask, 21st overall — Rask was traded to Boston at the following year’s draft for Andrew Raycroft. Rask has become the clear successor to TIm Thomas in Beantown (he is 7-2-2 with an impressive 2.02 goals-against average and .930 save percentage this season). Raycroft fizzled out in Toronto, then Colorado, and is now the backup in Vancouver.
- 2006: Jiri Tlusty, 13th overall — Traded Dec. 3, 2009, to Carolina for Philippe Paradis.
* 2003 first was part of the Boyes deal; 2004 first was part of a package that sent to the Rangers for Brian Leetch; 2007 first was part of a package sent to San Jose for Vesa Toskala and Mark Bell