Tyler Bertuzzi is making Detroit Red Wings general manager Ken Holland and his scouts appear rather shrewd these days.
Bertuzzi, an 18-year-old winger with the Guelph Storm, is having a career year, justifying the Red Wings' decision to make him a surprise second-round selection (58th overall) in this year's NHL draft.
Heading into Friday's game in London, Bertuzzi has 10 goals and 25 assists in his third season with the Storm. He has three goals in his last two games, scoring two in a win over Sarnia last Sunday and one in a victory against Plymouth the night before. He also had a five-point night — the first of his career — with a goal and four assists against Kitchener on Nov. 1.
With 35 points on the season, he needs just five more to exceed the 39 he mustered in his first two OHL campaigns combined.
"First year, I was just coming in as the new guy," he said. "I didn't know what to expect, really. I just thought I needed to dump (the puck) in and chase it and just work hard. You've always got to work hard.
"That's always going to be part of my game. … Your game's going to evolve over the years, and mine's evolved into being a threat offensively."
With Bertuzzi's help, Guelph has gone 6-3-1 in its last 10 games and sits fourth in the tight Western Conference with a 22-6-2-1 record.
Detroit usually has a tendency to wait until later rounds to make surprise picks, such as selecting stars Henrik Zetterberg (seventh round, 210th overall in 1999) and Pavel Datsyuk (sixth round, 171st overall in 1998).
"It was pretty shocking when it happened, obviously, in the second round," Bertuzzi said.
Thinking that he would go somewhere in the fourth to sixth rounds, Bertuzzi did not even attend the draft festivities in Newark, N.J., and viewed them on TV instead.
"I was just at home with all my family and friends," he said. "We were all in my backyard. … We watched it here and there. We were just going through the day like we would, and it was exciting when I heard my name called. Everyone looked around."
Bertuzzi later received calls from former Wing Kris Draper, who is now an executive with the team, and his uncle, Detroit winger Todd Bertuzzi, who offered his congratulations.
Guelph coach Scott Walker saw the quick pick coming as he received calls from "no less than nine" NHL teams during the week before the draft. Walker went to Newark and spoke to some clubs about him at the draft before teams started picking.
"We figured somebody would have to step up if they wanted him bad enough, and Detroit had two picks in the second round and ended up taking him," said Walker.
Scoops aside, Walker indicates that Bertuzzi, a known agitator who has tried to cut down on fighting this season, has what it takes to become a regular in the NHL. Walker describes him as a player who can blend a physical style with a high skill level.
"He's a high-energy guy," said Walker. "In the NHL, he's one of those guys that you love to play with. He grinds it out, but he’s got more skill than guys give him credit for. He plays the game the right way and can do a lot of different things for us.
"He can penalty-kill. He can go in front and handle the puck on the power play. But he also can play a hard, physical game against other players."
Bertuzzi could take on a more prominent role in upcoming games, because fellow left winger Kerby Rychel has left Guelph to take part in the Canadian junior team's evaluation camp in advance of the upcoming world championships in Malmo, Sweden. Bertuzzi hopes to have a similar opportunity to represent Canada next winter.
However, it is not guaranteed that Bertuzzi will be back in junior in 2014-15. As a 19-year-old, he could play in Detroit's farm system. Given that the perennial NHL powerhouse tends to develop prospects slowly, he would not be surprised to return to junior next season, but he is quietly hoping to get a chance to play alongside his famous uncle one day with the Wings.
"That would be a pretty neat family moment, for sure," said the younger Bertuzzi. "It would be a big accomplishment and it’s a big thing to be looking forward to."
Bertuzzi, whose mother Angela is Todd Bertuzzi's sister, said comparisons to his uncle were inevitable – and occurred often – while he was growing up. But he does not see many similarities in their games.
"I'm definitely quite a bit smaller than him," said Bertuzzi, who is listed at six-foot and 178 pounds. "I still feel like I'm growing. I'm still putting on weight, so I'm getting stronger and bigger. He's a big power forward. He's a veteran of the NHL and he's also got a big body presence.
"I'm a bit more of a playmaker."
The Bertuzzis do have some similarities on and off the ice, though. In addition to hailing from the same hometown of Sudbury, Ont., both have played for Guelph. Todd Bertuzzi spent four seasons with the Storm between 1991-92 and 1994-95.
Despite a desire to follow him to another high-profile team, the younger Bertuzzi also strives to be a different player.
"Growing up, you have Bertuzzi on the back of your jersey, and that's what everyone asks you, if he's your uncle and all that, and (if) you have the same number," he said. "But you're your own player. You've got to go do your own thing.
"Obviously, you have role models growing up and role models (who affect) your game. But you've just got to play your own game and be your own self."
Walker, a former OHL and NHL winger, competed against Todd Bertuzzi in junior and was his teammate in 1997-98 with the Vancouver Canucks. The Guelph coach believes the elder Bertuzzi had more skill as a junior than his nephew does, but said both play with the same passion.
While the younger Bertuzzi hopes that passion will get him to the NHL someday soon, he is eager to help the Storm contend for an OHL title and Memorial Cup berth this season.
"It's going to take a lot of hard work, a lot of battles, but we've got the team to do it," he said.
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