Carolina forward Jiri Tlusty has spent his six-year professional career split nearly evenly between Toronto and Carolina. Given that the beginning of his NHL career was a constant shuttle between the Maple Leafs and the American Hockey League's Toronto Marlies, those early years are now disappearing from his view.

"I spent [parts of four] years there, and I'm such a different player," Tlusty said. "I've learned so many things from the roles that I've been playing over here."
The 13th pick in the 2006 NHL Draft, Tlusty always knew expectations were high. Equally adept at setting up a scoring chance and finishing one, he also was willing to do hard work deep in the offensive zone.

There were flashes of that form in the Toronto organization. He posted 66 points in 66 games with the Marlies in 2008-09. During a call-up that season, he posted a three-assist game against the Hurricanes on Jan. 15. But it wasn't enough to hold the attention of the parent club, who subsequently dealt him to Carolina the following season. Since then, Tlusty has learned how to be an everyday NHLer.

"You have to earn every single chance out there," he said. "You go out there as a fourth-liner, so you have to make sure you don't give up any chances, and that leads to ice time every night. That was the big key. I learned from that. Now I can say I'm a good two-way player."

Two-way play is just the start. He has spent the season playing on Carolina's top line with Eric Staal and Alex Semin. With 13 goals and 22 points, no one is questioning Tlusty's ability to play a critical role on a scoring line. Most importantly, Staal has flourished with Tlusty as a linemate.