Detroit — If Sam Gagner were to recommend a younger hockey player one NHL player to watch, Gagner picks an interesting choice.
Tyler Bertuzzi, not exactly a player many would think. But given Gagner’s reasons, you realize why, and it has merit.
“He’s all over the puck, he hounds it, and when he gets it, he keeps it,” Gagner said. “We were talking about it the other night. He’s one of those guys that pucks follow him around. You think he loses it and he gets it back, and he strips a guy, and he takes it through somebody.
“He’s just a great hockey player, that’s what it comes down to.”
When a person analyzes this particular Red Wings season, the impact Bertuzzi has had thus far certainly stands out.
Given last season he was limited to only nine games before he needed back surgery, and the uncertainty of any athlete returning from that kind of procedure, it was fair to wonder how much impact Bertuzzi would have.
But in Bertuzzi’s case, with 19 goals and 17 assists (36 points) this season, in only 34 games — as an unvaccinated player, Bertuzzi has been unable to play games in Canada and he’s also missed four games while in COVID protocol — Bertuzzi is on track to surpass his previous career highs of 21 goals, 27 assists and 48 points.
“He’s come back without any fear, which is important coming back from any surgery,” coach Jeff Blashill said. “He’s been hard on the puck, his practice habits have been real good. It’s just a maturation level. He’s always cared a lot, but he’s gotten better at his attention to detail every day in practice, and that’s carried over to his consistency in his game.
“You never know when someone has back surgery. Even if you’re young, if you’re an athlete or not, it’s a hard thing to do. With that said, he’s come back great.”
Many of the NHL stars of today are known for their elite skating, or shooting, or puck-handling abilities. But a player like Bertuzzi doesn’t stand out, necessarily, in any of those areas, and relies more on his instincts and grit.
For that, Gagner feels Bertuzzi might be one of the underrated players in the NHL.
“He’s just a guy who has great hockey sense and knows where to be on the ice,” Gagner said. “He wins tons of battles. He’s the type of guy that come playoff time, he’d be a great player.
“You certainly gain a deeper appreciation for his game when you’re on his team and you see what he’s able to do night in and night out. He’s been a big part of our group and it’s good to see him come back from the injuries last year and have the year he’s having.”
When Blashill needed to balance the Wings’ scoring lines beyond the top line of Bertuzzi, Dylan Larkin and Lucas Raymond, it was Bertuzzi who Blashill felt could help ignite a line with Pius Suter and Robby Fabbri.
Bertuzzi, Suter and Fabbri were teammates, and an occasional line, with Guelph when they played junior hockey together. That was almost a decade ago, many years have passed, but regardless, the line has been effective in the last 10 days since Blashill attempted the experiment.
All the while, Larkin, Raymond and Vladislav Namestnikov have been effective as well, giving the Wings needed balance, and potential scoring from two lines.
“It’s critical to have balance,” Blashill said. “You look at it and you feel like you have two real dangerous offensive lines. You’re not going to win in this league with one line, it’s just the reality of it. You got to have multiple lines that can impact most nights.
“Certainly, we’re given that with Bert on that line. It allows for two lines that could be real good scoring lines.
“It’s been good. I don’t think it’s taken away from either group’s offense. They both have been able to produce offense. It balances out for sure, I like it.”
Larkin isn’t surprised by Bertuzzi’s effectiveness this season, and in particular, Bertuzzi’s ability to create plays.
“He has more confidence, and he’s skilled,” Larkin said. “He has great hands, great hand eye coordination. He’s making plays, good plays.”
Defensemen Gustav Lindstrom (undisclosed injury) and Nick Leddy (maintenance day) didn’t practice Monday. Blashill said Lindstrom is considered day-to-day, while Leddy is expected to return to the ice Tuesday.
… Goaltender Thomas Greiss (COVID protocol) could be back on the ice later this week, but that doesn’t mean the Wings will put him in the net this weekend. Not having been on the ice for the last 10 days and facing shots, it’s simply different for a goaltender returning than it is a skater.
“It’s take longer for us to feel comfortable to put him in those (game) situations,” Blashill said. “You can’t hide him on the fourth line, or third (defensive) pairing, or let him feel into the game. Either you’re ready to go in net, or not.”