By: Melissa Esing (@Off_thePost)
Throughout the 2013-2014 NHL season, I’ll be posting player features each Friday. This week, we’re going to take a look at Robert Bortuzzo.
Every year within the NHL, a player can either progress and improve themselves or regress. Pittsburgh Penguins’ defenseman, Robert Bortuzzo, in a sense has progressed. He was originally drafted by Pittsburgh in the third round (78th overall) in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft.
After playing several seasons of junior hockey for the Kitchener Rangers (Ontario Hockey League), he finally made his NHL debut in November 2011. He played just six games and recorded zero points throughout his debut year, and was eventually sent back down to the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. He returned to the NHL during the 2012-2013 campaign and recorded four points in his 15 games played. Yet again, he was sent back down to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.
So far throughout the 2013-2014 campaign, Bortuzzo has remained a Pittsburgh Penguin and has played in 40 games, a drastic difference from the past couple of years. The absence of many essential blue-line Penguins’ due to injury this season gave players like Bortuzzo the opportunity to become more established within the league. He has recorded five assists so far this season.
Along with the opportunity to play more games, it’s very noticeable that Bortuzzo has become more comfortable with the puck. He has vastly developed his skill set, especially after being given the opportunity to play more than 15 games. At this point, he does have the NHL defenseman caliber that he lacked the past couple of seasons. With that being said, he still has a lot of work to do to change his -6 rating, but any improvement is good improvement.
The last time the Penguins met the Chicago Blackhawks, denfensemen were having an incredibly off game. Bortuzzo was the reliable defenseman throughout the game, forcing turnovers with three good poke checks, intercepted a pass and nice block. Games like this make the 24-year-old shine, even though the outcome of the game wasn’t in favor of Pittsburgh.
Bortuzzo is well-known for his physicality, and let it be known that he won’t hesitate to drop the gloves. Standing at 6′ 4″, his height gets him in trouble at times. When the Pittsburgh Penguins met the Calgary Flames mid-January, Bortuzzo had a questionable hit on Flames’ Mark Giordano, which led to controversy. Some spectators say that the hit deserved a suspension, while others argue that it was clean his height overpowered the 6′ 0″ Giordano. Aside from a penalty, Bortuzzo wasn’t given any additional discipline outside of the game.
Taking a break from assessing his game play in the regular season, the young defenseman has not seen and NHL playoff games. If given the opportunity to get a taste of the NHL post-season, Bortuzzo will add the grit that the team could need. He clearly won’t be expected to put up any impressive/surprising goals, but any experience will build his worth and caliber.