Why Tyler Bertuzzi’s performance lends hope to next season for Detroit Red Wings

Detroit Free Press

With the light all but extinguished on this season, Tyler Bertuzzi’s near-grasp of a milestone casts a glow towards the future.

He’s within one goal of 30 entering the final week of the Detroit Red Wings‘ season, recording his 29th in an unlikely fashion in Sunday’s 3-0 victory in New Jersey. He fired the puck from just outside the Devils’ blue line, sending it into an empty net.

He has built his reputation by being around the net, absorbing physical punishment to score in tough areas.

“Tyler does a lot of things that you want to see in your players,” coach Jeff Blashill said. “Tyler is a guy that is very willing to go to the net, is good around the net, has good hands in those areas. He’s proven he can score from the outside as well, but ultimately if you want to consistently in this league, you have to get to the net, you have to score those greasy, dirty goals.”

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Bertuzzi won’t be available for Tuesday’s game in Toronto because he’s unvaccinated for COVID-19, so he has only Friday’s finale against the Devils left on the slate to become the team’s second 30-goal scorer. Dylan Larkin was at 31 when he was lost for the season to core muscle surgery April 18.

“Both those guys have had real good offensive years,” Blashill said. “They went through a large stretch where they were pretty high on the plus-minus in comparison to the rest of our team. They went through a tough two-week stretch over the last little bit before Dylan had the surgery, but prior to that, they were plus players. Which means you’re going out and you’re winning your shifts. Plus-minus isn’t everything but it means, ultimately, that when you’re out there, you’ve won the shifts more than not.”

There was concern about Bertuzzi’s effectiveness coming into the season after he underwent back surgery in April, roughly three months after he left a game in January 2021 and ended up missing the remainder of the pandemic-shortened season. That was answered with four goals in the season opener. Bertuzzi — who had two previous 21-goal seasons — and Larkin had their chemistry back’ both topped 20 goals by the end of January, helping the Wings be in the conversation for a wild-card spot.

“Both guys have increased their offensive ability over time,” Blashill said. “A good challenge for those guys, and our whole team, is to show that you can produce that type of offensive on a playoff-caliber team. For a large stretch of the year, we were in the mix and they were leading the way. It got away from us over the last six weeks to two months, but for a large stretch, they did a really good job of leading the way offensively on a team that was in the mix. From that perspective, it’s a good step.”

The Wings haven’t had two players reach 30 goals since Larkin and Andreas Athanasiou in 2018-19. What lends even more excitement to next season is that with 13 goals in 24 games, Jakub Vrana projects to be a 40-goal scorer. Rookie Lucas Raymond is at 23.

JAKE THE GREAT: Vrana projects to be Red Wings first 40-goal scorer in a decade

The Wings have lost twice in the past 10 days to the Florida Panthers, the Presidents’ Trophy chasers who boast a 30-goal scorer on their third line. As the Wings continue to advance their rebuild, having those types of options are key. Bertuzzi has proven he’s one of them, and he has done it by going to the hardest area of the ice.

“He just has a knack for finding the puck and finding the back of the net,” goaltender Alex Nedeljkovic said. “He’s not afraid to go to the front and that’s how you score dirty goals. Some of his goals aren’t necessarily the prettiest but they all count the same and that’s what makes it tough — he just has a knack for finding pucks, getting his stick on things, and creating offense. You need a player like that in order to succeed in this league.”

Contact Helene St. James at hstjames@freepress.com. Follow her on Twitter @helenestjames. Read more on the Detroit Red Wings and sign up for our Red Wings newsletter. Her book, The Big 50: The Detroit Red Wings is available from AmazonBarnes & Noble and Triumph Books. Personalized copies available via her e-mail. 

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