By: Will Burchfield
The slumping Red Wings have cited the need to shoot more pucks and get more traffic in front.
There are few things – if any – that Tyler Bertuzzi does better.
The 21-year-old forward was called up to Detroit on Tuesday from the AHL Grand Rapids Griffins after the Wings placed Thomas Vanek on long-term injured reserve. Bertuzzi will make his NHL debut Tuesday night against the Philadelphia Flyers.
“When he’s playing well he’s a guy who’s on the puck a lot,” said coach Jeff Blashill after practice on Monday morning. “He’s got a good reach and stick on pucks so he creates turnovers. He finds a way to hard areas of the ice. He can shoot the puck from in-tight areas, finds a way to score in those tight areas and gets to the net hard.
“As a team, the one thing we’ve talked about is we need to do a better job of getting to the net front, we need to do a better job of shooting the puck and I think he does those two things.”
The Red Wings have lost five straight games, scoring just nine goals over that stretch. On the season, they’ve averaged just 28.1 shots per game, the third-lowest mark in the league. To create more offense and snap out of their funk, numerous players have stressed the importance of scoring “dirty” goals.
Bertuzzi is more than capable of filling that need.
“Again, when he’s playing really well – and he’s done this for me, he’s done it for Nelly (Griffins coach Todd Nelson) – he’s a guy who finds a way to greasy-type goals,” Blashill said. “Sometimes it doesn’t look pretty but he’s got that in him. We need more of that and we’re hoping he can bring that tomorrow night.”
In choosing between Bertuzzi and the highly-regraded Anthony Mantha to take Vanek’s place on the roster, the Wings felt Bertuzzi’s hard-nosed style of play was what they needed most.
Mantha has seven goals and an assist in nine games with the Griffins this season, including a four-game goal-scoring streak to start the year. Bertuzzi had two goals and two assists in the same amount of action. At the time of his call-up, he and Mantha were tied for the team lead with 28 shots a piece.
“I’ve had conversations with everybody involved that’s watched the team and they’re both playing excellent, they’re both playing really good hockey,” Blashill said. “We think they’re both real good prospects. As we talked about it, we debated it a little bit last night – ‘debated’ isn’t the right word – we discussed it last night, and we just decided this time we’re going to go with Bert.”
At practice on Monday, Bertuzzi skated with Frans Nielsen and Dylan Larkin, taking the place of Henrik Zetterberg who was given a maintenance day.
“It was good to get the first practice in and get skating with the guys,” said Bertuzzi, who saw significant action for the Wings during the preseason and already knows most of his new teammates. “It makes it more comfortable. They’re a great group of guys, very welcoming and they’re excited to have me here.”
Blashill has yet to determine who Bertuzzi will play with on Tuesday night, but he confirmed the rookie will receive plenty of ice time.
“We brought him up here to get significant minutes, yes,” Blashill said.
Ahead of his NHL debut, Bertuzzi is eager to help the Wings get back on track.
“I just want to bring energy,” he said. “Play my game, keep doing what I do and just bring energy. Block shots, play good defensively and just take my chances when I get them.”