Sept. 8, 2016
By Brendan Savage, MLive
Playoff hockey is quickly becoming TBT for one of the Detroit Red Wings top prospects.
Tyler Bertuzzi Time.
Bertuzzi had a solid rookie year in the AHL last season, scoring 12 goals while picking up 18 assists in 71 games. That ranked 10th in the team scoring race and left him second among rookies behind defenseman Robbie Russo.
But the playoffs is where the 6-foot-1, 190-pound Bertuzzi really picked up his game for the second year in a row.
In two postseason appearances with the Griffins – Bertuzzi turned pro before the 2015 playoffs – the feisty forward has 14 goals and six assists in 23 games.
For those keeping score at home, Bertuzzi is averaging .61 goals per playoff game as a pro and .17 goals per regular-season game.
"Some guys joke around with me that 'You shouldn't even play the season, you should just come play in the playoffs,'" Bertuzzi said. "For me, I love playoffs. It's a gritty game in the playoffs. It's a lot harder, it goes up a lot in the playoffs.
"Teams get better, a lot of guys get called down, it's a lot faster, it's bigger. Everything for me, I just feel like I need to step up my game, whether it's luck, I just like to work hard and working hard, that type of game.
"I think it helps me."
The Red Wings hope Bertuzzi can eventually bring that success to the NHL given their recent playoff struggles.
They've escaped the first round of the playoffs just once in the last five years and last season struggled mightily to score goals in the postseason. They had eight goals in five playoff games before the Tampa Bay Lightning sent them home for the second straight year.
Goal scoring wasn't exactly what the Red Wings envisioned when they drafted Bertuzzi.
More than anything, they liked his grit and hard-nosed style of play when they surprised many people by choosing him in the second round of the 2013 draft.
They picked Bertuzzi 58th overall, causing an uproar among some fans who felt that was too high and was the result of the team's relationship with Todd Bertuzzi, Tyler's uncle and a former Red Wings forward.
So far, Tyler has proven the Red Wings made the correct call.
He helped the OHL's Guelph Storm reach the Memorial Cup Finals in 2014 with 10 goals and seven assists in 18 playoff games before bagging 43 regular-season goals during his final junior campaign of 2014-15.
He also gave the Storm a physical presence, something that continued last season as he led Grand Rapids with 133 penalty minutes – the first time he had reached triple figures since getting 117 PIM as an OHL rookie in 2011-12.
"My first year, I fought a lot, hit everything I could," Bertuzzi said. "I wasn't that good with the puck, couldn't even stick handle, I don't think. Just great coaches in Guelph that helped me develop a lot. Just growing as a person, growing, gaining weight, just maturing.
"For me, I think I can score now. I can agitate, I can work hard, I can do as much as I can and I think my game's evolved to more agitating, play the body, score goals when I can but just be good defensively, play hard on the walls and just work hard."
Bertuzzi will start this season in Grand Rapids, where he'll get more seasoning before making a full-time run at the Red Wings roster in 2016-17.
His expectations, however, are a bit higher.
"The same as last year," he said, "just come into camp, try to make the team, just like everyone else. Put in my hard work and just do what I can to make it.
"I just take it day by day, whether I'm in Grand Rapids or I'm in Detroit. Wherever I am, just work hard, play for the team that I'm playing for and just move forward."