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Bortuzzo Plans To Build Off Impressive Rookie Season

by Jason Seidling / Pittsburgh Penguins
The Penguins are less than a week removed from completing their annual prospect development camp, and if you are look for a spokesman of sorts to discuss the benefits of such camps, look no further than rugged defenseman Robert Bortuzzo.

Robert Bortuzzo, right, chats with Joe Rogalski during prospect development camp last week.
Bortuzzo, 21, just completed his fourth such camp since being drafted in the third round (78th overall) of the 2007 National Hockey League Entry Draft. Both Bortuzzo and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton head coach Todd Reirden, who helps run development camp, credit his performance in last year’s camp as a huge factor in Bortuzzo putting up a solid rookie campaign in the American Hockey League last season.

“I think Robert had a really good year for us in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton,” Reirden said. “I think it all started for him at development camp. He came in and there was uncertainty about where he was going to play last season. He came in here in almost a tryout mode.

“I think he really opened some eyes here in development camp and then went to rookie camp and played outstanding. He built on what he did at the development camp. Then, in his rookie camp he got into a few fights, put up some points, was solid defensively and supported the rush – he displayed all of the habits we would like to see from our players.”

The uncertainty surrounded Bortuzzo because he was coming off of a regular season which saw him appear in just 23 games for the Kitchener Rangers of the Ontario Hockey Leauge in 2008-09 due to injury, and he had one over-age season of eligibility remaining with that squad.

But the Thunder Bay, Ontario native had full intentions of turning professional, a fact he was able to show to management beginning with development camp.

“Coming into camp last year I didn’t really know where I was going to fit – I didn’t know if I was going to be back in junior or playing at the professional level,” Bortuzzo said. “I just tried to work hard and show them what I can do. The whole year was just an exhilarating time and I am hoping to build on that.”

Not only did Bortuzzo show management what he was capable of, he positioned himself to one day be a significant part of the Penguins’ blue line at the NHL level following a rookie season which saw him post 12 points (2G-10A), 109 penalty minutes and a plus-13 rating – which ranked second among WBS defenders behind fellow rookie Brian Strait – while appearing in 75 games.

At 6-foot-4, 215 pounds, Bortuzzo has always had the size and ruggedness to impress on the ice. What really helped him open eyes regarding his immense potential is his improvement in the finer details of playing defense that he developed throughout the year working with Reirden and WBS assistant coach John Hynes.

“There were so many little things that the coaches threw at us including working at the blue line and our skating,” Bortuzzo said. “Overall, I think I improved the most in terms of the way I use my stick. I am a bigger guy with a longer stick. Sticking to details such as that is something they preached to us in WBS. I thought those were among my biggest areas of improvement.”

While the Penguins are thrilled at how well Bortuzzo has worked to hone all of the elements that come with playing defense in the NHL, Reirden says Bortuzzo’s size, and the way he uses that figure, are among the keys to his potential ascension to the next level.

“He is a guy who is 6-foot-4 and getting bigger every day,” Reirden said. “He is up to 215 pounds now. I think that allows him to have a good feel to his game and how we want to play defense in this organization. To me, he adds a little bit of a toughness element on the back end.”

Speaking of tough, that’s exactly the word that Bortuzzo used when asked what he expects from himself when the Penguins hit the ice at CONSOL Energy Center in mid-September to begin training camp – as in he hopes to make it tough for management to send him back down to WBS for another season.

Robert Bortuzzo finished the 2009-10 campaign ranked second among Wilkes-Barre/Scranton defenders with a plus-13 rating.
Sure, Bortuzzo realizes the Penguins are pretty stacked along the back line following the additions of Paul Martin and Zbynek Michalek in free agency to join the likes of incumbents Brooks Orpik, Kris Letang and Alex Goligoski, but he also knows the remaining two spots behind those guys are up for grabs.

Although Ben Lovejoy and Deryk Engelland, among a group of others, figure to have the inside track at those positions, Bortuzzo intends on making things interesting during the exhibition season.

“I just want to leave them with a tough decision,” Bortuzzo said. “I just want to come in and work hard. Last year I think I put myself on the radar a bit. This year, once you are on the radar, there are going to be more eyes on you. I’m just going to block that out, work hard and hopefully things go well for me.”

If Bortuzzo returns to WBS for a second season it could be better for his overall development to play top minutes in the AHL rather than being a No. 5/6 d-man in the NHL, but Reirden knows that someday soon Bortuzzo will be clearing the crease in front of Marc-Andre Fleury in Pittsburgh.

“There are much different expectations now for Robert Bortuzzo,” Reirden said. “Now he has to take advantage of the opportunity he has earned by opening some eyes here. … I think he is a guy who has a bright future ahead of him.”


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