March is usually a month when bad teams try to identify their good prospects by giving them a twirl with the big boys.
For the clubs, they get some sense as to whether a youngster might be ready to make a permanent leap to the NHL any time soon. The call-ups, meanwhile, get a glimpse of just how mean Chris Pronger is and gain a true understanding that attempting to stuff a puck past Roberto Luongo is like trying to toss a football through a keyhole.
But exposure isn’t always the answer for both player and team.
Take Toronto prospect Jiri Tlusty. The left winger has basically been averaging two points a game since late January with the American League’s Toronto Marlies. Over a 19-game stretch, Tlusty has 16 goals and 36 points, including a franchise-record five-goal game.
So why has Tlusty remained with the Marlies, while teammates like Tim Stapleton, Anton Stralman and Phil Oreskovic fielded “We want you up here” calls in recent weeks? Well, essentially, why mess with a good thing?
Tlusty, who turns 21 next week, played 58 games with the Leafs last year and 14 earlier this season. His eyes have already been exposed to NHL realities. Right now, it’s more important his confidence grows and nothing nurtures an ego like filling nets.
A 13th overall pick in 2006, Tlusty has shown top-six forward potential for a couple years with his terrific shot, but also taken some lumps at both the NHL and AHL levels. Now that he’s taken flight, there’s no pressing need to alter the path.
Right now, Tlusty is poised for a summer of positive thoughts. Why not ensure that when he lands in camp next fall, his freshest hockey memories are of him undressing AHL defensemen instead of getting spanked around by burly NHL blueliners.
Sooner or later, Toronto has to determine Tlusty’s true worth. But this might be the rare case where a little procrastination is the proper approach.
Ryan Dixon is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey’s Young Guns and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Wednesdays and his column, Top Shelf, appears Fridays.
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