Red Wings' Tyler Bertuzzi lives up to 'hockey player' accolade

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News

Detroit — Tyler Bertuzzi is a hockey player, which fans around Detroit know.

But then, there are numerous times when Bertuzzi is called a “hockey player” by coaches and teammates that takes the term to another level.

There’s a respect factor that comes with the phrase, which means a lot. The connotation is you're a tough, honest and team-first player.

Red Wings' Tyler Bertuzzi has 12 goals and 16 assists in 36 games this season.

Dylan Larkin was talking about linemate Tyler Bertuzzi, and not surprisingly, Larkin went there, as most teammates and coaches do when describing Bertuzzi.

“I’ve said it before, he’s just a hockey player,” Larkin said. “He battles, he plays hard, blocks shots, scores goals. He’s always in every battle. He gets himself there and when he’s there, he’s over the puck, getting his stick on it, a skate, or a glove, and getting something on it.

“He’s always in battles.”

Bertuzzi’s willingness to engage in those hockey battles is a key reason why he’s enjoying a career-best season.

In a Red Wings’ season that’s been filled with disappointment, Bertuzzi’s season has been a major bright spot.

With just several games before the midway point of the regular season, guess who is leading the team in scoring?

Yes, somewhat unexpectedly, Tyler Bertuzzi, with 28 points (12 goals, 16 assists).

Playing on a line with Larkin and Anthony Mantha — which Bertuzzi believes is the springboard to his offensive numbers — is a factor. But Bertuzzi also has capitalized on the opportunity presented him.

“Opportunity is a big deal in production, there’s no doubt about it,” coach Jeff Blashill said. “Opportunity, now he’s earned it. He’s playing on that top line, he’s playing with real good players, playing on the power play.

“So certainly opportunity is part of it, and then part of it’s just the growth of him as a player. He’s grown over the years he’s been here, and he’s continued to get better and better.”

Interestingly, these days more people are talking about Bertuzzi’s hockey ability, or grit and tenaciousness, rather than his early career abrasiveness.

Bertuzzi had 117 minutes in penalties with Guelph in 2012-12 and racked up 133 minutes in Grand Rapids during the 2015-16 season.

These days, Bertuzzi is a milder version of himself — he only has 10 penalty minutes this season – although he’s willing to protect teammates or engage physically if needed.

“I’m going to be hard around the net, and that part of the game is going to come with being hard at the net, hard to play against,” Bertuzzi said. “Before, I’d probably try to do something back, but (now) I can just back off and not let it get to me.

“Just go out and play hockey.”

Bertuzzi, 24, broke through last season while getting a chance to play primarily with Larkin and Mantha. Bertuzzi scored 21 goals (he had 47 points total, with a plus-11 rating), and showed he could play on any sort of line or blend into whatever role he is given.

“He’s a real solid player that can be a real good complementary player, but now he’s starting to become a little bit of a driver,” Blashill said. “He’s kind of been a driver at times on that (Larkin) line (when Mantha was injured).”

Blashill coached Bertuzzi when the forward broke into professional hockey in 2014 with Grand Rapids.

“He’s been a real good player for me whenever I’ve coached him,” Blashill said.

Bertuzzi brings an element of grit to the Larkin line, something Bertuzzi doesn’t mind at all.

The trio found chemistry and success almost instantly last season when Blashill put them together, and it’s carried over to when they’ve played together this season (Blashill has broken them apart once Mantha returned from injury last week).

“We finished the year last year real strong and that connection came over to this year,” Bertuzzi said. “We just have to be more consistent.”

Larkin has noticed more offensive confidence from Bertuzzi this season, one reason for the bigger offensive numbers.

“I’ve noticed that instead of making the easy play or just chipping it in, he’s taking the extra second to get his head up and make the play,” Larkin said. “That’s been good for us. He’s been really opportunistic.

“In the game where there’s not a lot going on, he seems to create chances, more than ever this year. He’s creating chances for himself, and he’s always been a worker.”

Twitter: @tkulfan