Tlusty 2

How many goals will Jiri Tlusty score in 2013-14?

One bright spot in a mostly forgettable year for the Hurricanes was the emergence of Jiri Tlusty. The former first round pick of the Toronto Maple Leafs had a breakout season leading the team in goals with 23 and was a perfect fit on the first line with Eric Staal and Alexander Semin. Tlusty only turned 25 last March and was a high scorer in the AHL, so it's possible that what we saw last year was a natural part of his development, but there is also a chance that it was a fluke.

Looking at Tlusty's shooting percentage, it's pretty easy to see why most are expecting him to regress this season, because there is little chance that he can shoot at 19.7% in a full year. Add in the fact that he also scored three empty net goals and I think him coming back down to Earth is inevitable. How much will he fall off, though? I don't think anyone with a level head on their shoulders is going to expect Tlusty to score at a 40+ goal pace again this year, but can he still be an effective offensive player? I don't know if he is a first-liner, but there is some evidence suggesting that Tlusty is a good goal-scorer and doesn't need elite linemates to produce.

When I looked at Tlusty's numbers away from Eric Staal & Alexander Semin over the last two years, I found out that he was able to score at a decent rate at even strength with different linemates. His ability to drive the play also wasn't hampered by playing with different linemates either, so perhaps he wasn't just a product of strong linemates. Tlusty did see his scoring rate decline, but he was still producing at a decent rate at even strength away from Staal & Semin, so he definitely wasn't just a passenger.

Whether or not Tlusty was a passenger on the first line shouldn't be an issue for next year, though because he is probably going to be with Staal & Semin for the majority of the season. The real question at hand is how much will Tlusty produce without the aid of an incredibly high shooting percentage. With him entering a contract season, how he performs next year will be critical and will should play a role in how much he makes in free agency. The Hurricanes will have more leverage if last year was just him shooting the lights out, so it will be interesting to see how this situation is handled going forward, especially when there's a good chance that Tlusty's goal total will drop while his game improves in other areas.

How much is Tlusty worth now and what kind of numbers should we expect from him this year? We'll explore that after the jump.

Even Strength Production

Tlusty's goal-scoring rate exploded last season while his assist rates stayed constant. As a result, he posted a first-line scoring rate at even strength and was one of the 30 best players in the league in this regard. Looking at this, it can be easy to conclude that last season was an aberration for Tlusty and we should expect him to cool down this year. However, it's very possible that he can still score at a top-six rate, because he was able to do that in 2011-12. He also played 70% of his career minutes in the last three seasons, so that is more indicative of his talent than his numbers over the first three seasons.

One thing I do want to mention, though is that Tlusty gets almost all of his points for goals, which is to be expected when you consider his linemates, so shooting percentage will play a big role in how he fares this year.

  5v5 TOI Shots/60 Shooting% SF/60 Team Sh% Assist%
2007-08 598.57 N/A N/A 26.2 7.66 30.0%
2008-09 160.35 7.86 0.0% 31.07 6.02 60.0%
2009-10 228.62 3.94 6.7% 25.2 8.33 62.5%
2010-11 548.67 5.47 12.0% 25.11 9.57 27.3%
2011-12 1015.67 6.85 12.1% 28.38 8.73 33.3%
2012-13 692.77 8.49 19.4% 33.3 11.72 22.2%

Tlusty's shooting percentage wasn't the only thing that went up last season, as his and the Hurricanes shot rates also increased. This shouldn't be a surprise, though because he played with some supremely talented linemates and was often considered the "finisher" on this line. With Semin & Staal doing most of the puck-handling, Tlusty's job was to take advantage of open space and get to scoring areas. He did a great job of that and defenses often ignored him, which had a big role in his shooting percentage spike. Tlusty should still be able to get a lot of shots on goal, as this is one thing that can carry over from year-to-year, but his shooting percentage will probably go down.

We all love to believe that shot quality exists, and while I'm sure it has a role, there hasn't been much proof of it being sustainable over multiple years. Unless you're an elite scoring talent, most players will see their shooting percentages bounce around randomly and I feel pretty confident saying that Tlusty isn't elite. Tlusty could also see his assist rate go down next year, as that was the main thing that increased after he was promoted to the first line and most of it had to do with the Canes posting a very high shooting percentage.

Power Play Production

Tlusty wasn't a regular on the power play until last season, if you can believe it so his career numbers don't mean a whole lot. He has typically posted good numbers with the man advantage over the last two years, though. Considering that 80% of his power play time came during this time, I would feel pretty good about what he has done thus far.

  5v4 TOI PP Shots/60 PP Shooting% PP SF/60 PP Team Sh% Assist%
2007-08 27.9     40.9 10.53 0.0%
2008-09 16.15 3.72 0.0% 63.13 11.76 0.0%
2009-10 16 7.50 0.0% 30 0 0.0%
2010-11 8.73 20.62 0.0% 27.5 0 0.0%
2011-12 65.63 8.23 22.2% 43.93 18.75 50.0%
2012-13 124.02 7.74 25.0% 51.77 7.48 30.0%

Again, most of these numbers don't tell us a whole lot other than Tlusty has given his teams good results on the power play with limited minutes. He has shot at a pretty high percentage over his career and the Canes produced a lot of shots with him on the ice last year, which was the first season where he got regular power play time. Let's hope some of that can carry over into next season, although the law of averages says it probably won't.

Projection

Now here's the part you call care about. I think Tlusty scoring at least 20 goals last year is very realistic because he is going to get ice time and his linemates probably won't change much. Right now, I have him projected to play about 14 and a half minutes per game at even strength, as he was kept at a lower rate than the rest of the first line last year and I don't see that changing. That could change if he continues to play well, though. Assuming he does average that, he could produce anywhere from 140-155 shots depending on how often he shoots the puck.

In past seasons, Tlusty wasn't much of a shooter but that changed last season and he averaged over eight per game. Will that continue if he stays on the first line? I believe it will, but I was a little conservative in my projection and had him producing 7.7 shots per game at even strength. That would give him 149-150 on the season.

If he shoots like he did at even strength last year, Tlusty would have 28-29 goals in a full season. Unfortunately, the odds of him repeating that are low, so we have to temper our expectations a little. Personally, I have him shooting at 12-13%, which is still high but closer to his career average and that would give him 17-19 goals at even strength. This is probably the more reasonable outcome.

Another thing that will probably stay constant if Tlusty stays on the first line is that the Hurricanes will produce over 30 shots per 60 minutes at even strength with him on the ice. The first line isn't the team's best territorial unit, but they are capable of producing a lot of offense and that should continue next year unless the first line completely deteriorates. If they produce 31 shots per 60 minutes, that would put Tlusty on the ice for 603-605 shots by the end of the season. This would equate to him being on the ice for 50-52 goals if the team posts an average shooting percentage like I am projecting them to. Based on his career assist percentage, he would end up with 14-16 in a full season.

On the power play, I think Tlusty will get at least 2 minutes per game there and this would result in him registering 23-25 shots in a full season if he produces eight shots per 60 minutes. The reason why I'm going with eight is because he played most of his power play minutes in the last two seasons and his average is around that area. Tlusty has also been a very good finisher on the power play the last two years, but I'm not sure if he can sustain a shooting percentage north of 20% in a full season. It's possible if he doesn't play many minutes on the power play but it still seems kind of unlikely. With that in mind, I'm going to project him to score 3-4 goals on the power play with his shooting percentage regressing to around 15-16%. He could definitely do worse, but I think he has enough goal-scoring talent to get at least three or four on the power play.

Tlusty was also on the ice for over 50 shots per 60 minutes on the power play last year and he could easily do that again if he gets time on the first unit. Although, I'm not sure how many minutes he will get there because he might be behind a few other players in the pecking order. This could change if he continues to produce while Skinner struggles. That said, I have him on the ice for 47 shots per 60 minutes on the power play next season, which would be pro-rated to 144-145 in a full season. Assuming the Canes shoot at 8-9%, Tlusty would be on the ice for 11-13 power play goals in a full season, which would equate to him registering 4-5 assists based on his career average.

So in the end, I have Tlusty scoring somewhere between 23-26 goals next year with at least 19 of them coming at even strength. Given what he has done over his career, I think this is a fair prediction and not too generous. Tlusty still has not played that much compared to other NHLers, so there is a lot about him that we don't know but he has shown the ability to be a pretty good goal-scorer when given the opportunity and I think this will carry over into next year. Those who are expecting a 30-40 goal season might want to temper their expectations a bit, though.

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