TORONTO - Regardless of the outcome, Tuesday night's game between the Maple Leafs and Hurricanes was going to be a big one for Jiri Tlusty.
The 21-year-old made his first appearance at Air Canada Centre since the Dec. 3 trade that sent him Carolina, picking up an assist on the game-winner in the Hurricanes' 4-2 win over Toronto.
"It was great coming back and playing against the Leafs," said Tlusty when asked about returning to play his former club.
"They traded me, so I was kind of pumped."
Tlusty, who played just over 13 minutes and was plus-1 on Tuesday, was dealt by Toronto in exchange for prospect Philippe Paradis.
The native of Slany, Czech Republic, played 58 games for the Leafs two seasons ago as a rookie, but just 16 in 2008-09 and two this season before the December trade. He never played the type of game Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke expects from his team.
"I have a better chance to play (in Carolina)," Tlusty said. "I think (coach) Paul Maurice and the staff kind of trust me and I'm trying to build that trust and working hard."
Tlusty was a leading scorer for the American Hockey League's Toronto Marlies with eight goals and 15 points at the time of the trade.
Tlusty said having Maurice behind the bench, his former coach with the Maple Leafs, has been helped his play with the Hurricanes.
"It's always great to have a coach you know, because he plays the same style as he did two years ago," he said.
Tlusty is likely most famous - or infamous - in Toronto for some risque photos that made the rounds on Facebook, but he's a skilled player who's still young.
It was Maurice who said yes when GM Jim Rutherford asked if he should acquire Tlusty, and by all accounts he's acquitted himself well with the Hurricanes. In seven games with Carolina, the forward has a goal and four assists.
"He's a very, very smart player with room to still improve," said Maurice. "He's going well."