Young Wings still learning to become 'every day players'

Gregg Krupa
The Detroit News
Tyler Bertuzzi has played over 15 minutes just once in the past five games for the Red Wings.

Detroit — Red Wings fans are watching a lot of development on the roster this season.

The next few seasons likely hold similar promise as the franchise moves through a period of transition, and will eventually have to replace Henrik Zetterberg.

Some NHL players say the step up, most often from the American Hockey League but sometimes from playing in major juniors or the NCAA, is the biggest, toughest stage toward making a career in the best league in the world.

For some players, the advancement is direct. Others require some strides backward to go forward.

But they all strive to become “every day players.”

The Wings have gotten some inconsistent play recently from some of their younger players, with Andreas Athanasiou and Tyler Bertuzzi skating only shortened time on ice against the Bruins after playing less than their best on shifts when Boston scored twice.

Meanwhile, Dylan Larkin continues to mostly log long minutes, frequently replacing Zetterberg this season as the most-played forward.

Accomplishing the progression to the NHL, with its far more demanding style of play and busier schedule, is a critical phase.

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“At first, it’s hard,” Larkin said. “It’s 82 games. It’s practice almost every day.

“Luckily, for young guys in this room, including myself, we have great leadership that you get to look at every day. It’s an everyday reminder of what it takes to be who they are, and why they are still playing and why they are the leaders on our team.

“The games don’t get easier, this time of year,” Larkin said. “The guys are tired.

“But the guys that are the best players in the world, they show up every day, they play every night.

“So, it’s definitely been learning every one of my first three years.

“This time of year is a tough time of year, but we’ve definitely got to find a way to produce.”

After an impressive first several games to his 2017-18 NHL season, Bertuzzi has been less effective at times recently. As a result, he played less.

“Yeah, I mean, sometimes certain guys are going and some aren’t,” Bertuzzi said. “You know, it was a slow start for the last game.

“I’ve played 18 minutes. I’ve played 10 minutes. If I play well, (coach Jeff Blashill) is going to play me. And that’s what it is.”


Bertuzzi said he is aware not only of the time in his career, but the time in the season for the Red Wings.

“This a part of the season when we need to get wins," he said. "So whatever (Blashill) sees the lines are going to be to get us goals, that’s going to be who’s going to go.”

Even as they use the current juncture to adapt their games to the NHL, some of the younger Wings soon will be called on to be leaders soon, with Zetterberg likely to retire after next season or in two seasons.

“Guys that are coming up from the American League are generally elite players at the American League level,” Blashill said. “Their talent discrepancy is greater.

“There is still a discrepancy in talent among American League teams where you can take nights off and win.

“There is none of those here.”

And that degree of difficulty has heightened in recent NHL seasons, the coach said.

“It’s way different from five years ago,” Blashill said. “It’s way different from seven years ago. It’s years different from 15 years ago.

“There’s no bad teams. Even teams with bad records are not bad teams. And so, every night, you have to be so much on top of your game.”

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Blashill said it takes players time to adjust, some more than others.

“I think it’s a learning process sometimes for young guys to understand, and that’s what separates the elite players in the league from the good players,” he said.

“The elite guys find a way to be at the 90-100 percent of their max every single night, because there’s just no way to go out and work yourself into a game and no chance to kind of go out and skill yourself around the rink."

Larkin said the daily pace of the NHL and the routine requirement of fine performance is something the Red Wings need to begin to sustain.

“We weren’t happy with the way we showed up in the last game,” Larkin said. “But, before that, the three games we had after the break, we were playing good, we were playing hard, we were playing fast and we were a hard team to play against.

“When we do that, and the more urgency we have, it’s going to give us a better chance to win every night.

“We’re just finding ways to lose. We need find ways to win.

“It’s up to each guy,” Larkin said. “It’s up to yourself.

“You’ve kind of got to put the personal stuff aside, and you want to win. You do anything for the team to win.”