Bertuzzi just knows how to play hockey, says Blashill

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News

Traverse City — Tyler Bertuzzi doesn’t stand out in terms of size, speed, skating ability or his shot.

But ask coach Jeff Blashill about Bertuzzi and Blashill gives him the utmost compliment.

Blashill simply sees a hockey player.

“By that, I mean some guys, they just know how to play hockey,” Blashill said. “They find ways to come up with pucks, they might not have the prettiest skill set or might not skate the fastest and they might not be the tallest or might not have the fanciest hands.

“But, man, they’re productive, and that’s Bert to me at the level he’s played at.”

The nephew of former Red Wing Todd Bertuzzi, Tyler has progressed much since being drafted in the second round in 2013.

Then mainly an agitating, scrappy winger who loved to get under the skin of opponents, Bertuzzi has grown his game to where he’s supplying offense and playing a well-rounded, overall game.

“My game is evolving every year,” Bertuzzi said after Friday’s training camp practice. “I’m feeling stronger. Whether it’s gritty, in the corners, or playing (with top-6 forwards), that’s what I want to do. I expect to do it a lot more and keep working on it.

“I feel good. I don’t know how close I am (to the NHL) but I came here to work hard, just like everyone else. You have to earn your spot and that’s what I’m trying to do.”

Bertuzzi, 21, was a rookie in the AHL last season, where his performance was stronger the second half.

In 71 games he had 12 goals and 18 assists (30 points), while accumulating 133 penalty minutes.

“My first year in pro, I didn’t know what to expect really,” Bertuzzi said. “I thought it went real well. I learned a lot and I want to take that into this year.”

There’s been some speculation he could be ready for the NHL already in a fourth-line role.

But judging from Blashill’s comments Friday, it’s likely the Red Wings want to see Bertuzzi perform at a high level over an entire season.

“He had half a season where he played good in the American League,” Blashill said. “Let’s have a full season. Let’s not rush it if it doesn’t need to. He’ll have a chance in the preseason where he can say he’s real close or not close, and we’ll see.”

Bertuzzi gave a lot of credit to veteran forward Dan Cleary last season in Grand Rapids, helping Bertuzzi adjust to the pro game.

Cleary, a good friend of Todd Bertuzzi’s, gave the younger Bertuzzi a good education on what to expect in pro hockey.

“Dan was a big part of my first year in pro,” Bertuzzi said. “He taught me a lot of things and what to expect and not to expect.”

Said Cleary: “Me and Todd are good friends, so I made sure to pay attention to him (Tyler). He’s a great young kid. I just saw him get out of his shell. He’s going to be a great player. He’s exactly what the Red Wings need. He works hard, does everything he needs to do as a pro. It’s gratifying, and great to see.”

When Bertuzzi was slumping during the first half of last season, Cleary passed along a hockey mental toughness book that helped Cleary before he joined the Red Wings.

“I told him it helped me become a Red Wing for 10 years and the first game, he scored a goal,” Cleary said. “When he scores a goal, he gets excited and jumps into the glass ... uses a few cuss words.”