Grand Rapids — After a dominant junior season, Tyler Bertuzzi hasn't slowed down since turning pro.
Bertuzzi signed an entry-level contract with the Red Wings as soon as his season in Guelph (OHL) ended and arrived in Grand Rapids with surging confidence after a career-high 43-goal and 98-point season in the Ontario League.
He scored one goal in two regular-season games with the Griffins (a goal in his professional debut) and in the AHL playoffs has been a revelation, averaging a point per game (seven goals, four assists in 11 games).
"It's a small sample size but it's been really impressive," Griffins coach Jeff Blashill said.
Bertuzzi (2013 second-round draft pick) has evolved from a disturbing pest his first OHL season when he had 117 penalty minutes and just six goals to this season's prolific scorer who can still get under an opponent's skin (91 penalty minutes).
And in the playoffs, playing on one of the Griffins' scoring lines, Bertuzzi has essentially replaced Mitch Callahan, who had been the Griffins' physical presence, but saw his season end in February with a knee injury.
"Bert has been really good," Blashill said. "He's come in and he's another guy whose game fits the playoff type of hockey that we're in.
"He wins puck battles, he goes to the net hard, and he has the ability to play with good players. He's been giving us a lot of everything."
Being healthy, after two seasons of struggling with head and neck injuries, was a key reason for Bertuzzi's success.
But in Grand Rapids, it's helped to be around a successful, veteran team that has blended in the likes of Bertuzzi and Dylan Larkin (Waterford/University of Michigan), among other recent draft picks.
"We have a lot of call-ups in the lineup right now and we have fun and joke around and it's a learning experience, we're happy to be here," Bertuzzi said. "I know a lot of the guys here have won (a Calder Cup) championship before, they're pretty close and you can tell that. Us coming in here, we've molded into their systems and buying into anything to win.
"For us, getting called up, we have to prove a point, and coming in here we have to give 100 percent all the time and do all we can to win."
Bertuzzi is the nephew of Todd Bertuzzi, who finished his NHL career last season with the Red Wings.
The two keep in touch during hockey season.
"We talk, he'll text me if there's a big game coming up," Tyler Bertuzzi said.
Teemu Pulkkinen has a league-leading 14 goals in the AHL playoffs, and leads the Griffins in the postseason with 18 points.
Pulkkinen scored five goals in 31 games with the Red Wings and showed glimpses of that prolific goal-scoring ability at the NHL level.
The Red Wings sent Pulkkinen to Grand Rapids once the playoffs began, knowing he wasn't likely to crack the NHL playoff lineup.
"It's been good here, the team is doing good, I'm just enjoying this," said Pulkkinen, who led the AHL with 34 goals this season despite playing just 46 games at this level. "It's not the NHL, but this is a good hockey league with some real good players.
"And it's nice to be playing hockey this time of year. There's 26 other teams who aren't playing anymore and we're still playing. It's nice to be in the playoffs and I'm excited."
Pulkkinen will likely stick with the Red Wings at the start of next season, as he'd be exposed to waivers (and likely get picked up by another team) if he gets sent back to the AHL.
Griffins pull even
Andreas Athanasiou scored at 5:05 of overtime to give Grand Rapids a 3-2 victory Friday over Utica in Game 4 of the AHL's Wesrtern Conference finals.
The victory tied the best-of-seven series at 2-2 with Game 5 Sunday in Grand Rapids.
Athanasiou's goal was his fifth of the playoffs and he also assisted on Anthony Mantha's goal which tied the game 2-2 at 6:44 of the third period.
Xavier Ouellet opened the scoring for Grand Rapids.
Goaltender Tom McCollum stopped 32 shots for the Griffins.