PITTSBURGH — After Jiri Tlusty scored a career-high 17 goals last year for the Carolina Hurricanes, general manager Jim Rutherford called it a breakout season for the winger.
Hes still a young player, Rutherford said last April. Theres still room for him to make an even bigger jump.
Tlusty proved him right. He has a team-high 23 goals in 47 games, tied for fifth in the NHL after Fridays game. He has eight two-goal games and notched his first career hat trick April 2 against Washington.
Hes had a huge year, Canes coach Kirk Muller said Saturday.
Tlusty, 25, had a seven-game point streak going into Saturdays game against Pittsburgh and a team-best plus-16 rating. He has become a fixture on the Canes top line. On Tuesday, he will leave for Sweden to compete for his native Czech Republic in the 2013 IIHF World Championship.
Last year was my first kind of breakout year, Tlusty said Saturday. Ive had the chance to play with Eric Staal and it definitely has been a good season for myself this year.
Tlusty said had forward Tuomo Ruutu not needed hip surgery in December, it may have been Ruutu and not Tlusty on Staals left side. But Ruutu was not able to play until last month and Tlusty quickly meshed with Staal and winger Alexander Semin.
I think I proved I can play with Eric on that line and put up the same points as I did last year and maybe even more, he said. We missed (Ruutu) a lot. But that gave me the opportunity to play with Eric at the start of the season.
One of Tlustys close friends, Czech defenseman Tomas Kaberle of the Montreal Canadiens, said earlier this season Tlusty was maturing as a player and could be capable of scoring 30 or more goals in an 82-game season.
(Maybe) if I keep playing with the best players, Tlusty said. It has been a long time now since I have been playing with Eric, a year and a half, so its easier now for me to know where he is and read off him. That definitely helps.
They were just making good plays this year and I was just getting open and it was going in, and that was building confidence. Im getting plenty of chances playing with those two big guys. The other team is always focusing on them and Im always flying under the radar there.
Tlusty may not be able to go unnoticed any longer, not after 23 goals. And talk about a bargain. He signed a two-year contract last year with the Canes that paid him $1.5 million this season and will pay $1.7 million next year.
I think its the way he prepares himself, Muller said. Hes a real pro and he comes to play every night. And when youre playing with the two guys hes played with and youre ready to play, youre going to get the chances. I give him credit for the way he was consistent all year. He really played well.
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