At the beginning of the season, if you had told us that Tim Berni was going to play an NHL game, we probably would have laughed a little bit. If you had told us that he would play 59, we definitely would have laughed … a lot. But through the fog of blueline injuries this season, he emerged as a reliable defender for a team that really needed some help.
Berni has always been considered a fringe prospect, really from the moment he was drafted. By defensemen standards, he’s small (6’0″, 180 pounds), and he’s never been a big point producer. But he’s been a quiet leader everywhere he’s landed along the way, a reliable defender who just goes about his business and doesn’t stand out in any particular way. Positive or negative.
With the Blue Jacket defense corps decimated by injuries, Berni was able to “Forrest Gump” his way into a full-time role in the NHL this season. He was the sixth defenseman recalled by the team early in the season, but through the thick and thin of things, he was the only one that stuck with the team once called up. His calm, poised style of defense matched up well with rugged tough-guy Erik Gudbranson, and the two formed a sort of odd couple that gave this team good minutes, even against stout competition.
Before the season, we had him ranked as an honorable mention on our Top Prospects list … but by Christmas, he had leapt all the way to 11th. There’s a reason for that: he’s an NHL player. Now, if you look at his stats, you may be inclined to disagree with me here. But, for a player who was essentially the 13th defenseman for this team, he stepped in and more than held his own.
He’s never going to be a big point producer from the back end, that’s been proven at every level for him. But, he’s a great skater who does a good job controlling gaps and keeping the play in front of him. With the puck on his stick, he doesn’t ooze talent or dazzle you with his playmaking ability; but he’s also not a liability, more inclined to take the easy play than to try and generate offense out of nothing.
That said, he does surprise you with the occasional saucer pass, which makes his lack of assists a bit surprising. Once he settled in, I thought we saw glimpses of more offense from him, so maybe that will come in time – but even so, I don’t expect him to spend time on the power-play at any point.
Final season stats: 59 games played, 1 goal, 2 assists, 3 points, 34 PIMs, -26, 58 shots on goal. Overall grade: B
Any time you get a former sixth round pick – who is your 13th defenseman – to stick in the NHL and give you good minutes, that’s a success story. Tim Berni probably isn’t going to crack the top-six (or even top-seven, or eight) for this team when they’re healthy, but if you need a reliable player who was able to stay remarkably healthy this season, he’s a great guy to have around. He was one of the few success stories for the Blue Jackets this season, and I’m interested to see how he does moving forward.