Traverse City — There are no more questions whether Tyler Bertuzzi will begin the season in the minor leagues or with the Red Wings.
That was squashed around the middle of last season. That’s when Bertuzzi was promoted by the Wings and said farewell to Grand Rapids with an impressive, prolonged NHL debut.
Bertuzzi showed the type of versatility and know-how that could make him a valuable NHL player for a long time.
“I left last season confident in my game and myself,” said Bertuzzi, 23, who scored seven goals with 17 assists (24 points) with the Wings in 48 games. “I felt good toward the end of the season, scoring on my chances. I’m just going to be hopeful to take that into this year and start playing confidently, and we’ll see how it goes.”
Bertuzzi had one minor-league option left last year at this time, and though he was probably ready for the NHL at the start — numerous fans certainly wanted to see Bertuzzi on the Wings — he went down to Grand Rapids.
Some players in that situation have sulked and played poorly back in the American League. But Bertuzzi went out and dominated the AHL — which the Wings like to see from their prospects before permanently promoting them to the NHL — with seven goals and seven assists (14 points) in 16 games.
Once with the Wings for good, Bertuzzi displayed the keen offensive instincts, desire to crash the net, defensive ability, and willingness to engage physically that makes him a valuable piece for the future.
Coach Jeff Blashill began this training camp with Bertuzzi and Anthony Mantha on the wings, on the top line between Dylan Larkin, a sign of Bertuzzi’s value on this roster..
“I actually hope we do play together,” said Mantha, whose graduation to the NHL came one year earlier than Bertuzzi’s. “Last year was going pretty good at the end there (when all three were linemates). Bertuzzi is just a great player. He showed it (Saturday) in the scrimmage.
“He brings it to the dirty areas. If we can be a line, it would be great for the team and hopefully for ourselves.”
Blashill likes the grit and instincts that Bertuzzi brings to the line — but also the lineup, as a whole. Bertuzzi also possesses the versatility where he can be used on a variety of lines, in different roles.
“You have three real good players, you have good pieces in the sense that Bert is an F-1 (first forward) on the forecheck, and he’s a net-front guy,” Blashill said. “That allows the other two- not that they’re not hard on the forecheck — but it allows them to use their skill.
“Bert is a special player. He thinks the game at a high, high level. He’s got real good talent, and Bert’s got a chance to be a real good player.
“Putting them together can make a real good line.”
While Mantha can also go to the net and be a factor, Bertuzzi’s net presence allows Mantha to roam and use his shot.
“Mantha has learned the net is a spot where if you get to a lot, you’re going to score some easy goals,” Blashill said. “Having Bert there allows some flexibility for Mantha to use part of his skill set, which is a real good shot, too.”
Bertuzzi signed a two-year contract worth $2.8 million ($1.4 million salary cap hit) in June. But don’t think for a second that Bertuzzi is content.
“I’m going to take it the same way I was did out of juniors, just go work hard and earn your spot (in the lineup),” Bertuzzi said. “I’m just going to take it day by day and kind of take what I learned from last year and put it into this year.”