BOSTON – It’s no exaggeration to say this summer will be the biggest, most important offseason in the young NHL career of 21-year-old Tyler Seguin.
The Bruins winger was relatively productive while making his way through the 2013 regular season skating with Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron, but also inconsistent enough that he lost his spot during the playoffs.
Then Seguin thoroughly disappeared for long stretches of the postseason and managed just a single goal in 22 Stanley Cup playoff games. He scratched for eight points and a minus-2 in the four playoff rounds for the Black and Gold, and was outscored during the postseason by fourth line winger Daniel Paille (four goals and nine points). He was an absolute ghost in the playoff road games against his hometown Toronto Maple Leafs, but seemed to be skating with more energy and life after that series was over.
Expectations dropped for Seguin as he faded into a third line role for the Bruins, but he does deserve some credit for trying to adapt to the role. Seguin’s action of approaching Claude Julien and the B’s coaching staff for guidance in the latter rounds of the playoffs was a clear sign of maturity.
“It’s been a big learning curve and I’ve learned a lot about myself with trying to compete in an all-around game, and working on different things besides obviously scoring goals, and setting up players and getting points,” said Seguin. “I think I’ve improved on my game in other areas, competing with battles and working in my own zone.
“So I want to keep going with that stuff, and it will definitely give me more confidence in those areas. Sometimes I would be looking at the game sheet and say ‘I had seven, eight shots tonight it was a good game,’ and then there was a time when it was ‘I had two shots tonight but I played a much better all-around game,’ I never really thought about that to myself before these playoffs. So I think that’s one thing I learned. I was disappointed [with his individual playoff performance], and will definitely get a lot better as next year approaches. I want to have an incredible off-season.”
All that being said, though, it’s an exercise in frustration to think what the Bruins might have done in these playoffs if Seguin was anywhere close to the player Boston envisioned he’d be by the end of his third NHL season. In Steven Stamkos’ third NHL season as a 20-year-old, the Tampa Bay Lightning sniper had 45 goals and 91 points and brandished his toughness while staying in a playoff game against the Bruins after taking a puck to the face.
John Tavares had 31 goals and 81 points as a 21-year-old in his all-important NHL season, and became the de facto leader of a New York Islanders team that’s pointed toward a playoff direction. Pat Kane scored 30 goals along with 88 points, and helped power the Chicago Blackhawks to the first of their Stanley Cup championships in his third year. Even Phil Kessel had 36 goals and 60 points in his third season with the Bruins as a 21-year-old, proving that it was possible to put up those kinds of numbers under Claude Julien.
Some might say it’s unfair to hold Seguin up to the standards of such great players, but those are the Bruins forward’s peers and comparables.
Seguin finished the 48-game shortened season on a pace that would have given him 27 goals and 54 points in his third season, and that’s a step back from his All-Star campaign of 2011-12. That’s the wrong statistical direction to be headed, and the long stretches of invisibility during the playoffs put an unwanted exclamation point on Seguin’s problematic season.
On the ice the highly talented forward is still relying far too much on his natural God-given talent to skate like the wind, shoot with a deadly release and simply expect he’ll overwhelm opponents with his raw skill. For long stretches of the season Seguin simply tried to beat well-positioned defensemen with speed to the outside, and then settled for perimeter shots when he couldn’t get by the blueliner.
He would constantly shoot high and wide on one-timers from the dot during the power play after the Bruins’ coaching staff built the PP around that as one of their main weapons. Seguin might be working on improvement in those areas, but the work isn’t translating into results or production.
There weren’t enough instances of Seguin pulling the puck back out, slowing things down and resetting the offense while looking for a trailer, and not nearly enough use of his hockey smarts to create plays in the offensive end. It’s understandable Seguin never had to make many adjustments as a younger player when he simply overwhelmed his competition with raw hockey talent, but he needs to think the game much more consistently to create offense at the NHL level.
Seguin also needs to consistently enter the battle, and compete for pucks as similarly-sized teammates like Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci do on a regular basis. The occasions when Seguin moved to the front of the net for tips, rebounds and screens were remarkable when they did occur, but notable as well because they very rarely happened.
Getting bigger and stronger is something that will help him in those areas, and that’s in his plans for the summer.
“[I plan on] getting stronger and I definitely want to work on my conditioning, as well. I felt that as the later parts of the year went on and in the playoffs, I could have probably had even better conditioning. [To just] not get tired or anything like that,” said Seguin. “I think every year you have something that you’re focusing on. For me I think it’s about putting on more muscle and getting stronger, and trying to fill out my body – that sounded funny, I want to continue hitting puberty – but yeah, I’m excited for it.”
The extent to which teammates like Gregory Campbell and Patrice Bergeron were willing to play through pain and battle during the postseason should have been a wakeup call to Seguin It appeared that it was during the Stanley Cup Final when he came alive skating with Chris Kelly and Daniel Paille.
Seguin had three assists and 13 shots on net in the first three games against the Blackhawks, but then regressed in Game 4 with a weak first period turnover and a minus-3 rating. He rebounded with a strong final performance in Game 6, and the no-look assist to Chris Kelly was the kind of slick offensive play that was missing from much of Seguin’s postseason.
“I thought he played a strong game the last game. I thought his [Stanley Cup Final] was good. He’s a young, explosive player that didn’t perform exactly the way we had envisioned,” said Peter Chiarelli. “But he’s young and he makes plays, and he makes timely plays. There are only good things in store for him.”
Off the ice, Seguin is a 21-year-old that clearly needs to start maturing at a more rapid pace. He’s very much still the “kid” on a veteran-laden Bruins roster that’s been to the Cup Finals twice in the last three years, and that automatically pushes him into a young player role with fewer responsibilities.
That is nobody’s fault.
But it’s also a dynamic that’s put very little of the team’s fate on Seguin’s shoulders, and even less responsibility.
The “kid” is beginning a contract that will make him the team’s second-highest paid forward at $5.75 million per year, and it’s high time he stopped acting like the “kid.”
That means certain things need to end: the stories about late nights on the town in Boston, and being asked to vacate his living space in Charlestown in the middle of the season are among the speed bumps.
The bottom line: Seguin should start showing up much more in the Three Stars, and much less in the Inside Track.
Much of this would be fairly normal phenomena in the lives of most 21-year-olds, and they were amusing a couple of years ago when Seguin was a rookie. But starting next season the 21-year-old is being paid as one of the main cogs on the Bruins team. He needs to make sure he’s prepared to fill that heavier role on the Bruins in all facets.
There’s still plenty of time for Seguin to turn things around, however.
Just look at Matt Duchene.
The No. 3 overall pick in the 2009 Draft had a couple of strong seasons with the Colorado Avalanche to start his career, and then slumped to 14 goals and 28 points in 58 games during the 2011-12 season.
Duchene was at a crossroads with the Avs, just as Seguin is heading into next year. Colorado’s prodigy responded strongly this season with 17 goals and 43 points for Colorado in the 48-game shortened regular season, and squelched trade rumors that were starting to crop up around him.
Expect the Bruins to show similar patience with the highly skilled Seguin as they wait for him to mature into a more dominant player. The Bruins still expect Seguin will make a huge leap forward going into next season, or they never would inked him to a six year deal prior to the lockout.
That’s what Seguin is determined to do as he returns to his Brampton, Ontario home for two months of summer rest, and plans on spending a significant amount of that time off the ice.
“I think I put enough pressure, as it is, on myself to really not be thinking about too much other stuff,” said Seguin. “But I guess it is what it is with how everything works out, and I’ve just got to be ready next year.”
There it is again, that phrase “next year.” It’s a huge one for Seguin and the Bruins at an early crossroads in his career, and it could really set the tone for how things go down long term between the elite hockey talent and the B’s organization.