Wings' Tyler Bertuzzi proves worthy of All-Star nod, no matter what he says

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News

Detroit — Maybe if there was a rule that not every team needed to be represented, sure, maybe the Red Wings wouldn’t have anyone in St. Louis for Saturday’s All-Star Game.

There are players out there who probably deserve to be on the roster but aren’t there — and, maybe, quite possibly thrilled to be on the beach instead.

But, given the season Tyler Bertuzzi is having, Bertuzzi deservedly is the Wings’ lone representative.

No matter what Bertuzzi says himself.

Tyler Bertuzzi is the Wings' lone All-Star represenative.

“If they didn’t have pick someone from every team, I wouldn’t be there,” said Bertuzzi, the day after being named to the Atlantic Division roster.

The answer drew chuckles from assembled media. But upon closer inspection, analyzing stats, just the simple eyeball test, Bertuzzi is a worthy selection.

Bertuzzi’s 17 goals leads the Wings, and his 36 points tie him with Dylan Larkin for the team lead. Bertuzzi’s 19 assists rank second to Larkin’s 23. Bertuzzi plays a responsible, consistent, all-around game and has improved every season.

“I understand what he’s saying,” coach Jeff Blashill said of Bertuzzi’s comment. “But he deserves to go. He’s had a really good year.”

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Blashill has watched up close the gradual improvement and versatility in Bertuzzi’s game.

Blashill first coached Bertuzzi, 24, in the spring of 2015 when Blashill was head coach of the minor league affiliate Grand Rapids Griffins, and Bertuzzi began his professional career that spring.

A 2013 second-round draft pick, Bertuzzi had the reputation fo being a “disturber," a player comparable to Andrew Shaw or Brad Marchand, someone other teams would hate to play against.

And there was that, when Blashill first got him. But Blashill also noticed Bertuzzi’s overall skills were underrated.

“I was like, ‘this guy is way better than I realized’,” Blashill said. “I had heard a lot about how he was a disturber and all that stuff. But when I first got him (in Grand Rapids), I saw he had real good hands, good poise.

“I credit that to not being afrad to taking a hit. He believes he can hold onto the puck. He’s not a super big guy, but he’s very strong on his edges.”

If there’s been a difference in Bertuzzi’s game this season, it’s the fact he’s been handling the puck more and creating plays at a more advanced rate, than ever before.

Bertuzzi had largely been — and still is — more of a net-front guy who collected goals and points by deflecting pucks, screening the goalie, and making plays around the net.

“That’s just with more confidence,” Bertuzzi said of his playing with the puck. “Trying to gain the zone with possession is big. A lot of goalie can disrupt our forecheck. If you have the puck carrying it in, you’ll get more chances (to score).”

Bertuzzi’s dad and brother are in St. Louis to take in all the festivities, including Friday’s skills competition, in which Bertuzzi was to participate in the accuracy competition.

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Bertuzzi and his family always were in front of the television screen during this weekend on the hockey calendar.

“Of course,” Bertuzzi said. “It’s always been cool. When I was a kid, the skills competition was the coolest thing to watch. I’m excited, it’s going to be a great experience (Saturday’s game).

“To be there with the best players in the league, it’ll be fun. I haven’t experienced it before, so I’m excited."

Larkin was thrilled and excited when it was announced several weeks ago Bertuzzi would be the Red Wings’ representative.

“He’s been our most consistent offensive player,” Larkin said. “His game is evolving and he’s making plays, making plays all over the ice.”

Tyler Bertuzzi

Though Bertuzzi’s regular season has been good enough to earn All-Star recognition, Blashill is waiting for the time when the Wings are reaching the NHL playoffs and Bertuzzi gets his opportunity in that setting.

Bertuzzi won one playoff MVP award in Grand Rapids, in 2017, when the Griffins won the Calder Cup — Bertuzzi had 19 points in 19 games — and also averaged nearly a point per game in his first AHL playoff experience under Blashill in 2015.

When the games have been biggest, either in pro or junior, Bertuzzi's performance has been at its best, along with that agitating style that Bertuzzi hasn't completely put away for good.

“I felt like he had a chance to be a really good NHL player and he’s ultimately going to prove to be a really good winner,” Blashill said. “When our team is better, he’s going to be even more valuable. He’s the type of guy that wins.

“As the games get harder, he gets better.”

Twitter: @tkulfan