Traverse City Record-Eagle

July 11, 2013

Top Red Wings picks aim to silence their critics

By JAMES COOK
jcook@record-eagle.com

---- — TRAVERSE CITY — The Detroit Red Wings’ selections of Anthony Mantha and Tyler Bertuzzi may not have been the most popular in NHL scouting circles.

But the Red Wings and general manager Ken Holland have been known to make other scouts look bad on a regular basis.

Regardless, the team seems pleased with both, as well as second-rounder Zach Nastasiuk. The trio of wingers each bring something different, although the picks of Mantha and Bertuzzi came with some criticism — fair or not.

One scout ripped Mantha in his evaluation, saying the high-scoring 6-foot-4 right wing lacks passion. And some were shocked when the Wings selected Bertuzzi — the nephew of current Red Wing forward Todd Bertuzzi — in the late second round with a pick they acquired by trading back in the first. Some scouts had Bertuzzi ranked as low at No. 207 among North American skaters, and he was selected at No. 58, 10 spots behind Nastasiuk.

Both the Wings and the players aim to silence critics. And both made their first case Wednesday as the Red Wings Development camp opened up in Traverse City.

Bertuzzi, especially, came out swinging.

The left wing — known as an agitator — gave up about 15 pounds when he took on defenseman Nick Jensen in a rare camp fight.

“It used to happen,” said Detroit director of player development Jiri Fisher. “We’re going to manage the situation going forward. It’s great to see guys who have a lot of passion. It escalated and was a pretty intense small-area game we play. Nobody got hurt, and now we’ll make sure it doesn’t become a trend every scrimmage.”

“It was part of the game,” said Bertuzzi, who had a scrape on his cheek. “We shook hands afterward. We’re good. We were doing a battle drill and I crosschecked him and he crosschecked me. Then we dropped the gloves and fought. I think it was kind of even.”

Mantha, on the other hand, recognized critical remarks made by Red Line Report chief scout Kyle Woodlief — who said, “Does this guy even have a pulse? Plays with absolutely zero fire or passion” — and Mantha said the scout is partially right and that he aims to correct that.

“I knew what I had to get better on,” Mantha said. “And that’s what I need to work on if I want to play in the NHL one day. I know what I have to do right now, and I’m working hard on it.

“It’s my compete level. It’s being really present every game. And that’s the difference between being a professional and a Major Junior guy.”

At the Junior Major level, he was extremely productive last season, scoring 50 goals in 67 games for Val-d’Or Foreurs in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League and adding 39 assists.

“Last year I had a good (season) and this year I think I can step it up even more,” Mantha said. “Not necessarily score more goals, but my overall game I want to improve.”

Holland said drafting Mantha— who is 6-foot-4 and 190 pounds at age 18 — is part of the franchise trying to bulk up.

“It’s a process,” Holland said. “To go from the draft to playing the National Hockey League, realistically is about four to six years. We’re trying to slowly get bigger. Riley Sheahan is a big guy, Tomas Jurco is a big guy. We have a lot of defensemen who are 6-2 and taller. We’re slowly starting to get bigger. Mantha is 6-foot-4 and (Zach) Nastasiuk is a big guy and Bertuzzi plays a gritty game.”

Mantha also has some family history with Detroit. His grandfather, Andre Pronovost, played in the NHL from 1956-68, including part of three seasons with the Red Wings (1962-65).

Bertuzzi’s game isn’t to be the sniper that Detroit hopes Mantha will evolve into.

“I know I’ve got the heart and being a little pest out there and agitating everyone,” Bertuzzi said.

The 18-year-old said he needs to improve his stick handling and skills in general, but it’s his ability to be an agitator that earned him such a high selection.

“The second round is a pretty big accomplishment,” Bertuzzi said. “It was a little shocking, a little happiness, a little bit of everything. It was just exciting to have this opportunity.”

Many have compared him to Chicago Blackhawks forward Andrew Shaw, the 5-10, 180-pound winger whose edge helped Chicago claim the Stanley Cup.

“He made it to the big leagues doing that,” Bertuzzi said. “I get under people’s skin, fighting, hitting, whatever you can, work hard every shift. That’s what I’m going to do, too. Just have a different name on my back.”