By: Will Burchfield
The motivation for Ken Holland in trading Tomas Tatar to the Golden Knights on Monday was to create more opportunity at the NHL level for 23-year-old Tyler Bertuzzi, 21-year-old Evgeny Svechnikov and 18-year-old Michael Rasmussen.
They “ready,” Holland said. Which begs the question: Are they coming?
Bertuzzi, for his part, is already here. He was recalled from AHL Grand Rapids in late December following an injury to Luke Glendening, and has since tallied two goals and 11 points in 27 games. But he’s been confined to a limited role, especially of late, averaging just 10:32 over his last 10 games.
That’s about to change. Jeff Blashill said on Tuesday that Bertuzzi will replace Tatar alongside 21-year old Dylan Larkin and 23-year-old Andreas Athanasiou beginning with Wednesday’s game at St. Louis. It’s a line that represents the Red Wings’ burgeoning youth movement.
“Tyler Bertuzzi will increase his minutes by a lot,” Blashill said. “When Tyler first came up and there were injuries, I thought he played very well. I thought he slipped a little bit, opened the door for some guys to take his spot, and then didn’t get much of an opportunity. I think all Tyler needs is opportunity, and he’s going to get tons of opportunity.”
By now, Bertuzzi is a relatively known commodity. What he lacks in flash he makes up for in grit, and his hard-nosed style of play makes him a strong forechecker. Perhaps more exciting for Red Wings fans is the duo of Svechnikov and Rasmussen, two high-end forwards who could be lynchpins in the lineup for years to come.
Within the not-so-distant future, Detroit’s top six could feature the likes of Larkin, Athanasiou, Anthony Mantha, Svechnikov and Rasmussen. Svechnikov was the team’s first-round pick (No. 19 overall) in 2015, Rasmussen its first-round pick (No. 9 overall) in 2017.
“I think long term for the future of this organization, we need some guys to become great, and it might be people that aren’t here yet,” Blashill said. “I’ve talked to our young players about that, too: Don’t miss your window of opportunity. Lots of people are applauding you right now. That goes away if you don’t get it done, so let’s make sure we take care of that window of opportunity.”
Svechnikov’s window is arriving soon. He got his first taste of the NHL last season, appearing in two games late in the year, and will likely get his second before this season is over. He endured an early sophomore slump in Grand Rapids on the heels of a terrific rookie campaign, but has rebounded of late, tallying seven points in his last eight games.
“I know Svech has played very well here in the last little bit. I’m sure as the season goes along here over the last 20, I would foresee him getting an opportunity to show what he’s about. He wasn’t ready earlier in the year, he went through struggles. But that’s okay, that’s part of what life’s about,” Blashill said.
Right behind Svechnikov is Rasmussen, the highly-skilled 6’6 center who impressed the Wings in training camp and then scored four goals in five preseason games. Perhaps more importantly, he quieted concerns about his skating ability. Rasmussen, currently playing in the Western Hockey League, missed six weeks earlier this season with a wrist injury, but has racked up 24 goals and 49 points in 37 games.
He could earn a spot on the Wings’ roster to start next season, likely as a winger á la Dylan Larkin in 2015-16.
“I can only speak on Rass from what I saw in training camp, and I thought he’s a guy that looks like he could help our team,” Blashill said. “He’s a big body who can really add different versatility. I was just talking to somebody today about being a unique player, and guys that are his size with his skillset are unique in this league. Come next fall, I’m hoping he’s pushing hard to make the team. I hear he’s playing real good hockey, so that’s good.”
Then Blashill smiled and issued a word of caution.
“I think everybody gets excited about potential. Everybody gets excited about the unknowns,” he said. “Let’s have guys come here and prove it.”