He wasn't a disaster by any means, but he didn't look like the guy who'd just produced 10 points in an outstanding playoff series with the Boston Bruins. There was talk of Bertuzzi playing through an unspecified injury, and he struggled to find his fit in Toronto's top-six.
Through 12 games, the 28-year-old produced just three points, and two of them came on the power play. Even if he was banged-up and adjusting to his new surroundings, it'd hard be hard to argue that he was making a major impact.
That's changed in recent weeks as the Maple Leafs are starting to see Bertuzzi play like the guy who was a priority target for them in free agency.
In his last five games, Bertuzzi has two goals and three assists, with all of his points coming at even strength. His most meaningful performance of the season came against his former team — the Detroit Red Wings — in Sweden.
The winger got Toronto's offence started with a tip-in goal early in the third period, and set up the game-winner with a perfect cross-crease feed to John Tavares.
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The play showcased Bertuzzi's knack for close-quarters playmaking, and mirrored a couple of highlight reel assists he had with the Bruins.
When he's at his best the winger does a great job controlling and distributing the puck in high-traffic areas. That has spectacular applications like those above, and mundane ones like helping his team retain possession in the offensive zone, like this effort against the Calgary Flames:
It's not surprising the winger has some of the best possession metrics on the Maple Leafs. Even during his early-season struggles Bertuzzi's underlying metrics were solid, but in his last five games they've been absurd as the team has had far more success at 5v5 when he's on the ice than off.
These numbers overstate his value, but it's clear that during a stretch when the Maple Leafs have generally struggled to control play, Bertuzzi's minutes have been won by a significant margin. It cannot be ignored that the vast majority of those minutes have come alongside William Nylander, who is on an absolute tear.
Giving Bertuzzi sole credit for the success of a line featuring Nylander would be nonsensical. That said, it would also be unfair to assume that all of his success is rooted in the star's efforts. In his last five games, Bertuzzi's 5v5 expected goal rate in his 11:26 without Nylander (76.19%) is better than Nylander's performance in the same metric in 12:48 without Bertuzzi (55.94%).
The season-long numbers tell a similar story. In Bertuzzi's 106:13 at 5v5 without Nylander, the Maple Leafs have held a 4-4 stalemate in goals with an expected goal percentage of 60.90%. In Nylander's 105:37 without Bertuzzi, Toronto has been outscored 10-5 with an xGF% of 52.55%.
None of that is to say that Bertuzzi is the superior player by any stretch of the imagination. It's just that he isn't a product of Nylander's greatness. In fact, his strengths can help amplify what makes the Swede so dangerous.
During his short time in Boston, he seemed to have an excellent sense of where David Pastrňák was at all times and prioritized giving the sniper a chance to get his shot off.
The same dynamic is starting to emerge with Nylander.
Bertuzzi also has the ability to be a secondary puck carrier on the Maple Leafs' second line, allowing Nylander to find open areas to fire from.
In this sequence against the Red Wings he showcases his ability to break out, and Nylander is able to find a soft spot to his left.
Unfortunately for the Maple Leafs, Bertuzzi went to his right and tried to work a give-and-go that fizzled out, but it's the sort of play that creates room for Nylander — a rare luxury the Swede rarely gets when the puck is on his stick.
From a conceptual standpoint, the idea of placing Bertuzzi alongside Nylander and Tavares always made sense.
The veteran winger has the playmaking ability to feed the Swede, but can still be effective without the puck. He likes going to the net like Tavares, but his hands are nifty enough down low that he's capable of using his positioning to create chances for the Maple Leafs' captain as opposed to monopolizing the high-danger looks. While he's no Zach Hyman in the puck retrieval department, he can help in that area thanks to his tenaciousness.
Early in the season, the theory behind the Bertuzzi-Tavares-Nylander line construction didn't always generate tangible production. The unit succeeded, but Bertuzzi's contributions were subtle and it sometimes felt like Tavares and Nylander were working a two-man game.
Bertuzzi's play has been a lot louder recently, and he looks like a player with something significant to add to an already-deadly duo. As long as he's playing with Tavares and Nylander — or Matthews and Marner for that matter — Bertuzzi will be a supporting actor for the Maple Leafs, but he's showing the ability to star within his role.