Tyler Bertuzzi – Big League or Bust?

Third time’s the charm.

Bouncing up and down from the Grand Rapids Griffins to the Detroit Red Wings multiple times, Tyler Bertuzzi’s NHL career hasn’t gotten off to the smoothest start. This past training camp, his journey to the big league roster was cut short after a wrist injury put him out of action for 3-4 weeks. This led to him being sent down when he healed up on October 30.

It was likely that he would have made the roster due to the Andreas Athanasiou contract dispute had he not suffered the setback.

Earlier this month, he was finally called up to play against the St. Louis Blues on December 9. Exactly three days later after being on the ice for three goals against in a 5-1 defeat, he was sent down to the Griffins again. In 2016-17, he was pulled up for seven games before sustaining an ankle injury that would put him in the AHL for the rest of the season.

The hard-luck goes back to his OHL days with the Guelph Storm when he was limited to 29 games due to concussion-like symptoms back in 2013-14.

It’s clear the 22-year-old is no stranger to adversity, something that should make him hungrier to stay this time around. With bottom-six-winger Luke Glendening out for the next month or so due to an injury sustained Wednesday night in Philadelphia, there’s no better time for Bertuzzi to make a lasting impression on the organization.

His on-ice play in the AHL has certainly set him up for doing so.

Bertuzzi Building His Resume

Tyler Bertuzzi took his injury and demotion in stride down in Grand Rapids this season. In 16 games he posted seven goals and 14 points, tied for seventh on the Griffins. If he had played in all 30 games, chances are he’d be the leading scorer on a 11-15-4 squad that is currently fighting a significant Calder Cup Championship hangover.

Tyler Bertuzzi
Bertuzzi had a spring to remember last season, adding to an already impressive collection of clutch moments. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Speaking of that run last spring, the young forward was able to put a cap on an impressive start to his professional career. In 19 games, he scored nine goals (two game-winners) and 19 points, more than half of his 2016-17 point production (37). For his efforts, he was named the recipient of the Jack A. Butterfield trophy as 2017 Playoff MVP.

The run epitomized the former Sudbury Wolf’s pedigree as a postseason performer, which has been on the rise ever since he started his pro career in 2015. In 42 career Calder Cup Playoff games, he has 23 goals and 39 points. While it’s been encouraging to see him shine in the spotlight for the past couple of seasons, his overall play since the start of 2016-17 should not be undermined.

In 64 combined regular season games he’s scored 19 goals and 51 points, a solid pace for an agitator who’s been able to add a scoring touch to his game. In Detroit, he projects as a top-nine forward that can add some offense. Ranking 25th in terms of goals-per-game, the team needs all the help it can get. Bertuzzi has the opportunity to supply some in the coming weeks.

To add some staying power, however, he must adjust to the game in all situations.

Even Strength Play Must Improve

In 2017-18, the 6’0″, 190-pound forward notched four of his markers on the power play to go along with seven points. It’s unlikely that he’ll be used on the man-advantage at the NHL level, especially with how hot the unit has become in the last five games (5-for-14). It’s apparent that Todd Bertuzzi’s nephew will have to improve his performance at even strength to ultimately stick around.

At five-on-five, he was on the wrong side of the puck as he posted a minus-4.33% on-ice goals-for percentage relative to his teammates in Grand Rapids. Overall, he turned in a less than impressive 40.91% goals-for percentage. This could have been affected by the team’s performance, as the Griffins sat 22nd in both even strength goals-for percentage (44.54%) and total shots against (885) when he was called up.

Tyler Bertuzzi
Bertuzzi looks to adjust to the grind that is the NHL at even strength. (Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY)

The squad did place sixth in terms of shot share percentage, and Bertuzzi was a factor in that regard as he fired 2.5 per contest. This was good for fifth on the team among players who suited up for at least 15 games. At the NHL level, Dylan Larkin and Anthony Mantha lead the Red Wings with 2.59 shots per game each.

Granted, it is much more difficult to get the puck to the net at the NHL level. However, the mentality will do nothing but help the Sudbury native translate his game and scoring touch. He will not be getting the lion’s share of minutes in Detroit to do so, but any increase from his first two stints would be welcomed.

Bertuzzi’s Ice Time Must Be Earned

At first glance, the projected lineup for Saturday’s contest against the Boston Bruins looks promising.

A top-nine spot seems like a vote of confidence from Blashill, who vowed that the 2013 second-round pick must “make us keep him.” However, given his usage in eight NHL games (9:07 TOI) and the tendency of the Wings’ bench boss to mix the lines frequently, the left wing must remain on his toes.

The Glendening-Frans Nielsen-Darren Helm trio has arguably been Detroit’s best line in recent games in terms of forcing turnovers along the wall on the forecheck, so the support will be there at first. It’s up to the coaching staff and the play of Bertuzzi in those first few minutes to see how long he lasts and if he indeed forces the team to keep him for more than a cup of coffee.

Tyler Bertuzzi has had plenty of peaks and valleys so far in his hockey career. An opportunity has presented itself for this to be one of those peaks.

Third time’s the charm.

Advanced statistics courtesy of prospect-stats.com