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Notes: Bertuzzi has become reliable scorer for Wings

Abdelkader possible for Saturday; Daley returns to practice

by Dana Wakiji and Arthur J. Regner @Dwakiji and @ArthurJRegner / DetroitRedWings.com

DETROIT -- It doesn't seem like it was that long ago that Tyler Bertuzzi was just looking to crack the Red Wings lineup.

Now he's a mainstay on the top line and on the power-play unit that gets the most time.

Bertuzzi, 24, is making the most of his increased role, leading the team with 24 points (10-14-24) in 30 games.

Last season, Bertuzzi had nine goals and seven assists in his first 30 games.

"It's another year of experience, I would say," Bertuzzi said after Friday's practice at the BELFOR Training Center. "We finished the year last year really strong and I think that connection came over to this year. Obviously some games could be a lot better, and some games were really good, so we just gotta be more consistent."

Bertuzzi is averaging 19:35 in ice time this year compared to 16:31 last year.

"Opportunity is a big deal in production, there's no doubt about it," Wings coach Jeff Blashill said Tuesday. "Opportunity, now he's earned it but he's playing on that top line, he's playing with real good players, he's playing on the power play. So certainly opportunity's part of it and then part of it's just the growth of him as a player. He's grown over the years he's been here, I think he's continued to get better and better.

"I think he's a real, solid player that can be a real good complementary player but now he's starting to become a little bit of a driver. With (Anthony) Mantha injured, he's kind of been a driver at times on that line. He's continued to take steps. He's been a real good player for me whenever I've coached him."

Bertuzzi, Mantha and Dylan Larkin were put together as a top line toward the latter part of last season and found chemistry on the ice that reflects their chemistry as friends off the ice.

"Bert's been playing really well this year," Larkin said Wednesday. "I think he's been really opportunistic. In the games where not a lot is going on, he seems to create chances. More so than ever this year, he's creating chances for himself, working. He's always been a worker. When he gets the puck, he's looking to make plays. He's a great playmaker, a guy that's gonna get the puck on your stick.

"I've noticed that instead of making the easy play or just chipping it in, he's really taking the extra second to get his head up and make that play. That's been good for us this year."

One factor in Bertuzzi's improvement is that after dealing with some injuries earlier in his career, he has had two healthy summers to train the last couple of years.

"Obviously when we talked a few years ago and I wasn't healthy for three summers in a row, it was kind of tough on me," Bertuzzi said. "And then to get two or three good summers in, it's paid off in the long run."

If you look at Bertuzzi's progression as he ascended the levels of hockey, he always increased his production year by year.

With the OHL's Guelph Storm, Bertuzzi went from scoring 17 points (6-11-17) in his first season in 2011-12 to recording 98 points (43-55-98) in 68 games in the 2014-15 season.

With the AHL's Grand Rapids Griffins, Bertuzzi went from scoring 30 points (12-18-30) in 71 games in 2015-16 to 37 points (12-25-37) in just 48 games in 2016-17.

It was in the 2016-17 playoff run that Bertuzzi won the AHL's MVP award, the Jack A. Butterfield Trophy, for recording 19 points (9-10-19) in 19 games as the Griffins won the Calder Cup.

Bertuzzi got a taste of the NHL in 2016-17, playing seven games with the Wings but he did not record a point in limited ice time.

The following season, Bertuzzi played 48 games, scoring 24 points (7-17-24).

But last year, Bertuzzi broke out with 47 points, including 21 goals, in 73 games.

"I've said it before, he's just a hockey player," Larkin said. "He battles, he plays hard, he blocks shots, scores goals. He's got a speed to his game where he's always in every battle. He gets himself there and when he's there, he's over the puck, he's getting his stick on it, or a skate, or a glove and getting something on it. He's always in battles."

Bertuzzi's evolution also involves being more disciplined while still playing a hard game.

In his first year in Guelph, he racked up 117 penalty minutes. In his first year in Grand Rapids, he had 133 penalty minutes.

Last season with the Wings, Bertuzzi had just 36 penalty minutes.

"Obviously I'm gonna be hard around the net and that part of the game is going to come with being hard at the net and hard to play against," Bertuzzi said. "Before I'd probably try to do something back. It's always gonna be there but when I can just back off and just not let it get to me. Just go out and keep playing hockey."

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ABDELKADER EAGER TO RETURN: It's not official, but there's a reasonable chance alternate captain Justin Abdelkader could return to the Wings lineup for Saturday's 7 p.m. tilt versus the Pittsburgh Penguins at Little Caesars Arena.

Abdelkader has missed the Wings' last 11 games with an upper-body injury after blocking a shot in the closing minutes of Detroit's 3-2 victory over the Vegas Golden Knights on Nov.10.

Before the injury, Abdelkader was quietly putting together a nice bounce-back season for the Wings.

In 16 games played, the Muskegon native had three assists, was a plus-1, accumulated four minutes in penalties, delivered 29 hits and blocked 10 shots with an ice time average of 13:01 per game.

"I don't know that answer," was how Blashill replied when asked about Abdelkader's availability against the Penguins. "At the end, he's got to feel that he can play where it looks like he's 100 percent. You never feel 100 percent but that's always my message to injured players is nobody on the ice should be able to tell you're injured.

"He went through today's practice, I talked to him before, I said we'll talk after and then see you tomorrow."

Abdelkader has practiced the last couple of days with the Wings and like his coach, he isn't ready to deem he's ready to play, but he is feeling better each day and knows he'll soon be back on the ice.

"We'll see, see how I do tomorrow and go from there, take it day by day," Abdelkader told reporters after Friday's practice. "It's coming. Feeling better each day. (It) always feel good to be back with the guys for sure. I've had a couple practices with the guys. It's tough to watch, especially with what we've been through, so I want to be out there with them."

Since it's an upper-body injury, Abdelkader has been allowed to skate during his recovery, much like Anthony Mantha did when he injured his hand last season.  

"We (Mantha and Abdelkader) were talking about that. He said his legs felt as good as they've felt with the skate," Abdelkader said. "Sometimes the practices and skates you're doing are harder than the games. I've been lucky that way, I've been able to skate. It won't take as long to get back, get my legs underneath me. It's good to get some practice today, I practiced on Wednesday, so we'll see.

"Being able to skate, that's been big, (for) your timing, game speed. It's never easy when you miss some time, a month or so, but I feel like I've done a good job staying on the ice, keeping my legs."   

During Detroit's home games, Abdelkader is usually at Little Caesars Arena working out and rehabbing while the Wings play.

It has been difficult for him to have a back seat watching his team go through their current rough patch.

"I want to be in there with the guys. It's tough because you want to be out there and help any way you can. That's the tough part for sure," Abdelkader said. "We need a win in the (worst) way, just find a way to grind one out and clear the air, clear our minds a bit and hopefully get on track.

"There's been a handful of games that might have gotten away from us a little but I think for the most part we've been right there. It's been a goal here, a goal there. We just got to continue to focus on our specialty teams, that's a huge part of pushing you over the edge in these close games.

"Guys are working hard, working hard in practice, so we're going to have to work our way out of it."    

DALEY RETURNS TO PRACTICE: It has been another challenging season for the Red Wings in terms of injuries on the blue line.

Veteran Trevor Daley, limited to just 44 games because of assorted injuries last season, has played in just 11 games this year.

As recently as a week ago, Blashill said Daley and Danny DeKeyser were not even on the horizon to return but that could be changing.

Daley, 36, skated with his teammates during Friday's practice.

Tweet from @Dwakiji: #RedWings Trevor Daley in practice for the first time in a long while. pic.twitter.com/oqNkjUdga8

"It was good to see Trevor," Blashill said. "Trevor stated to me he feels like he's doing really well but I think he was very, very cautious that the last time he started pushing it, he went backwards. So there's still that opportunity that that could happen but so far he's been making real progress forward.

"He didn't do everything and there were nine defensemen out there - but to go through a full practice is a good step forward."

As with Abdelkader, Daley's teammates were happy to see him looking so good.

"Dales, it's good to see him back on the ice," Bertuzzi said. "It was a fun practice with him and Abby back. Just looking forward to having both of them back."

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