Seguin just scratching surface

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Seguin just scratching surface

OTTAWA Tyler Seguin has come a long way from the unsure youngsterthat joked about being a fifth-line center for the first time in his career oncelast years Stanley Cup playoff run got going.

The uncertain feelings and ebbed confidence sure didnt last very long.

The 19-year-old Seguin enjoyed his first real snap, crackle and pop moment of superstar promise during Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals last spring when he was injected into the lineup against the Tampa Bay Lightning. A four-point period in a giant playoff game is certainly a nice first step, but more importantly Seguin has followed it up with a summer of hard work and a first half of cold, hard, undeniable results.

The speedy, playmaking right wing ended the traditional first half of the NHL season leading the Bruins with 19 goals scored, tied with Patrice Bergeron for the team-lead with 43 points and leads the entire NHL with a plus-34.He has teamed with Bergeron and Brad Marchad to give the Bruins one of the most dangerous forward lines in hockey, and has earned the confidence of the coaching staff.The numbers are certainly there, and the eye-popping individual examples of skating burst, marksman wrist shot and passing abilities have been in constant viewing mode through his first 46 games this year. The 11 multi-point games this season are a pretty indicator of Seguin's ability to simply kick into another gear when the moment is right. It also gives Boston their best pure scorer since Rick Middleton was piling up points in Black and Gold.The best part: Seguin is nowhere close being fully formed as a hockey player.

The B's wunderkindhasbecome a card-carrying All-Star in Ottawa this weekend among the best players in the game, and has truly has arrived in his second season. Its a heady experience for the youngster, but its something hes been preparing for since he jumped to the NHL as barely more than a high school kid.The dream and goal of every kid is to make the NHL one day and win a Stanley Cup. Thats always been my focus, but the All-Star is cherry on the cake, said Seguin, who must have something against sundaes. I was very lucky getting picked by Boston: an Original Six team that was also already a Stanley Cup contender. I dont think there was anything more I could have asked for.

So why has it all come together for Seguin withthe Bruins this season?

Like anything else in life the first place to look is within the hard work category built uponthe foundation of sweat, repetitions and painstaking attention to improving physical strength and stamina. Where last season Seguin's top-speed burst lasted little more than an instant he can now shift into higher gears for rushes to the net and forays deep into the offensive zone.Many people had a knowinglaugh at the smiling, raucous pictures of Seguin and Brad Marchand enjoying the Boston night life in the days following their Stanley Cup victory, but those were replaced quickly by arduouswork behind the scenes in Toronto.

Seguin exited Boston less than two weeks after the Cup was won, and spent the rest of the summer training with Matt Nichols BioSteel program in Toronto an elite training program linked with the talentedclients of hockey agent Ian Pulver. Seguin tackedon 10 pounds of muscle headed into this season, and worked closely with Nichol to improve the key areas ofskating speed and balance after experiencing a full NHL campaign as a wide-eyed 18-year-old.

Tyler is a fantastic hockey player. He didnt need my help with that. He has gotten stronger, hes gotten a little more ballast and weve done a little work with him on speed, power and conditioning and all the same stuff everybody else does, said Nichol. I think a lot of it is the natural maturation process. Tyler is a fantastic hockey player, and as he grows hes going to keep getting better and better.

Seguin said he loves Nichols system because things are always kept interesting and competitive among the hockey players in theprogram, and he leaves every day of workouts feeling his entire body has been pushed without actually feeling any physical pain. Combine that with the nutritional component and the chance to learn from so many hockey peers, and that gives Seguinan excellent learning classroom during the summer as well asin-season with Boston.

Seguin mingles with players like Mike Cammalleri, Steven Stamkos and Carey Price through the summer at the facility and just like with the Bruins is the young guy working his way into an established older group of vets. In both cases he brings both youthful impetuousness and exuberance into the mix, and is good-natured enough to catch flack from the older guys as the new kid on the block.Seguin consistently gives off the vibe of the younger brother that everybody else on the team is taking care of, but only if that younger brother was capable of dropping a hat trick on the Maple Leafs at a moment's notice.

Hes got a great laugh and a great smile, and its a good thing because the rest of the guys hand him a lot of abuse. Hes the young guy in my program and the guys dont cut him any slack," said Nichol. "He takes his lumps because I think hes used to being the young guy in Boston. I got a couple of old farts in the training program that dont care for his musical tastes, but its all in good fun. Everybody really likes Tyler here.Of course not every moment is a hearty laugh or a good-natured grin. That's a part of the Seguin improvement plan as well, and it's been highly successful in its second year of implementation.

Earlier this season Zdeno Chara sat Seguin down shortly after his benching in Winnipeg for being late to a team meeting. TheB'sCaptain laid it all out for his young teammate in straightforward fashion, butdid with an undertone of encouragement and support. The conversation elevatedSeguin out of a temporary funk, and also brought the captain and his young pupil that much closer together.

With Mark Recchi around last season and veteran leaders like Chara, Chris Kelly and Patrice Bergeron around this year and beyond, Seguin has the perfect nurturing hockey environment to bring all of his hockey talents to the fore. Chara is the example by which all other hockey players view hard work and determination something even Senators CaptainDaniel Alfredsson admitted he couldnt equal when the two were teammates in Ottawa and the 6-foot-9 workout-a-holic has given Seguin the thumbs upfor the strides made in his second season.

You see a player thats not happy with himself, and maybe hes too shy to ask for advice. Or go see coacheswhatever. Ive been around the league and seen players for a long time, so I know when somebody is carrying that extra load," said Chara. "Thats the time when you pull a guy aside, talk to him and ask him whats the matter? Its good because most of us at his age didnt have those kinds of people that you ask advice or talk to about these things. Thats what we do here: we support each other.

Charas words during that meeting with Seguin weresimultaneously uplifting and cautionary, and the Bs captain knows as much as anyone Bostons hockey teen still has ampleroom to grow. He may be an All-Star aleady, but his raw skills say he has a chance to be one of the NHLs elite players when the compete level and experience match all the tools in the toolbox.

When youre dealing with players at his age and the talent that he has on the one side you see a guy thats extremely talented, skates really well, stick-handles the puck really well and shoots the puck well," said Chara. "Then on the other side the work, the battles, the races to the puck those are things that maybe arent as up as the other side. So hes got to find a way to balance it, but hes getting better and better.

Hes learning. At his age you have to be patient and stay with it and on top of it. Eventually he will learn how to battle, when to battle, how to get himself into games. Hes getting better and better. You cant have a complete player in his second year in the league. You have to give him time and eventually it will come. But hes getting better and better, so thats a good sign.

In anycase hes earned the respect of his veteran peers, who shake their heads as Seguin is walking through the sameyouthful lessons theyve already learned combined withthe amazing talent-ceiling Seguin possesses as a 19-year-old boy in a mans body. Former Habs forward Mike Cammalleri trains with Seguin in the summertime at Nichol's facilityand witnessed the on-ice competitor during the HabsBruins tilts. Cammalleri saw the gainsbeing made off the ice, and knewSeguin's second-year explosion wascoming.

I expected it in some senses. When you skate with him and work out with him, you notice that his skill set is so high. Hes a hockey players hockey player, said Cammalleri about Seguin. Hes got really good instincts out on the ice, and there really isnt anything he cant do. He can skate with the puck, pass with the puck, make plays with the puck; hes got that arsenal where he can really be dynamic offensively.

Hes also got that personality where he wants to be counted on to produce. It was more of a matter of him finding a spot. Its not easy as a rookie coming into a Stanley Cup-winning lineup to crack. I think it was more of him getting an opportunity to play with some guys consistently and now were all seeing the fruits of that.

There have already been some amazing snapshots within this breakout second season in the NHL. The hat trick in Toronto stands as one of the hallmarkmoments, but his shootout goal against the Flyers was the definition of clutch while the broken stickscore against the Capitals ended with a filthy roofed backhander in tight quarters around the net. Seguins saucer pass to the tape on Brad Marchands stick for a game-winner against the Montreal Canadiens is the epitome of slick passing at a clutchmoment where games are won and lost in the third period.

Seguin ison pace for 34 goals and 77 points this season, and that would clearlyregister as a major upgrade over an 11-goal, 22-point rookie campaign. But how much better can Seguinadvance beyond an All-Star performer capable of 30-goal seasons and 80-point campaigns when that qualifies as pretty damned good in todays NHL?The consensus answer seems to be "pretty far" beyond that.

The keen attention to his fitness and training, the natural born skill and scoring ability and the health of the Bruins organization mean that Seguins ceiling is higher than wherever his second-year totals eventually rest. He gained the aforementioned10 pounds of muscle in two months of workouts with Nichol and BioSteel last summer, and hell keep getting bigger, stronger, faster and more dangerous with each passing year as his hockey IQ and confidence levels soar.

Nichol compared his athletic ability to that of a basketball player with an elastic quality that gives him rare explosive qualities in skating stride and strength on his skates, and thats only going to become more formidable as he fills into his 6-foot-1 frame. That means Seguion can pack more weight onto his athletic frame to become stronger on the puck, and nothing short of catastrophic injury will rob him of his God-given athletic prowess.

Hes got a real kind of neat dynamic or elastic ability about his speed and strength. Some guys, their speed is a product of lots of raw strength and power. Tyler is really athletic and mobile, said Nichol. Hes just really reminiscent of a much shorter version of some of the basketball players Ive worked with in the past. Hes pretty raw. Hes got a lot of true athleticism. I really believe he still has a lot of upside physically and athletically.

Thats a scary thought for the rest of the NHL as the youngster grins his way through his first All-Star experience. Seguin is already the youngest player at this NHL All-Star weekend, and everyone close to the hockey prodigy feels he is just scratching the surface of how good he will eventually be for the Black and Gold someday.

The present is bright, but the future is blinding when it comes to Tyler Seguin and the Boston Bruins.

GAHS Podcast: Felger 'fearful' of where Bruins are headed

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GAHS Podcast: Felger 'fearful' of where Bruins are headed

In an all-CSN edition in the 15th episode of the Great American Hockey Show Podcast as co-hosts Joe Haggerty and Jimmy Murphy welcomed SportsNet Central anchor Mike Giardi to discuss the current B’s situation and conducted a wide-ranging interview with Sports Tonight host and Felger and Mazz co-host Michael Felger about his time covering the Bruins as a beat reporter, where he developed his love for hockey and his pathway toward becoming the most influential figure in the Boston sports media scene.

Perhaps most interesting from Giardi’s segment was his take that “nobody should be untouchable” on the Bruins roster, that includes franchise player and future captain Patrice Bergeron, if the return is good enough. Felger discussed who he’d move between Zdeno Chara and Tuukka Rask to change up the Bruins roster this summer and how gravely concerned he is about the health and well-being of the franchise coming off two seasons out of the playoffs.

“I’m fearful, of course. I think the passion of the Bruins fan base is still there. We could do four hours on the radio tomorrow talking about the Bruins, and totally bang it out with callers,” said Felger. “So the Bruins are so lucky that the fans are that passionate. But if it’s too long of a drought, we all lived through 2005 and 2006 coming out of the lockout. It was dark, and we have the capacity to go back there.”

For the full Great American Hockey Show podcast check it out below: 

No defense for blue-line shortcomings

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No defense for blue-line shortcomings

This is the fourth in a five-part series about the breakdowns that doomed the team this season, and what must change for the Black and Gold to once again get moving in the right direction. 

The Bruins had a master plan to upgrade the defense last summer. It quickly morphed into a dumpster fire.

After ultimately deciding they were unwilling to pay Dougie Hamilton an outlandish sum of money -- and coming to the conclusion that the young D-man simply didn’t want to play for Boston anymore -- they dealt him to the Calgary Flames for three draft picks. It was pennies-on-the-dollar value for a young, top-pairing defenseman, and a fear-based move given the threat of offer sheets that possibly loomed if Hamilton made it past July 1 without a new contract extension.

(They also torpedoed a better draft-pick package offer from their ex-general manager, Peter Chiarelli, by demanding Edmonton's young stud D-man Darnell Nurse, but that’s neither here nor there.)

The Bruins made the decision to move Hamilton after he and his camp ignored Boston’s multiple contract overtures. It was also apparent to those running the team that players like Hamilton and Reilly Smith weren’t meshing well with the rest of the Bruins core. 

(There's no second-guessing from this humble hockey writer about the jettisoning of Smith, despite his solid 25-goal season with the Florida Panthers: he was a soft player in that last year with Boston. The part of that move that should be regretted was immediately signing Jimmy Hayes to a three-year contract extension after closing the Smith-for-Hayes deal. But, again, that's neither here nor there.)

The problem for the Bruins after trading Hamilton was in the follow-through.

First they followed Chiarelli's troubling pattern of overpaying mid-level talent by handing Adam McQuaid a four-year, $11 million extension. Then they were unsuccessful in their attempts to move up in the first round of last summer’s draft and take either of the two collegians, Noah Hanifin or Zach Werenski, who projected as eventual No. 1 defensemen. They offered Hamilton and first-round draft choices; they also tried to use Martin Jones as a chip.

But whether new GM Don Sweeney thought he had a deal in place or not, things fell apart at the 11th hour. The Bruins did have three first-round picks, but they were in the middle of the round. In that position, they were unable to get an immediate difference-maker on defense.

The inability to land that young D-man (and potential heir apparent to Zdeno Chara) at last summer’s draft, or at the NHL trade deadline in February, ended up being a fatal blow. There was too much stress on a patchwork defense corps, and it was a major factor in the Bruins missing the playoffs. And even if they'd made it, the B's would have been nothing more than first-round cannon fodder.

The Band-Aid trade for 35-year-old John-Michael Liles was a nominal improvement at the deadline, but it spoke to just how badly they needed puck-moving reinforcements to assist a clearly overworked Torey Krug.

“I can tell you [Sweeney] worked extremely hard to try to move up (in the first round)," said Bruins president Cam Neely at his end-of-the-season press conference. "The scouting staff did a good job of identifying [players], and obviously, if you look back at the draft . . . you kind of had to be (in one of the top spots) to get one of those [defensemen] that were highly coveted. [Sweeney] just couldn’t do it last offseason. [He also] tried throughout the year to make something happen and he’s maybe laid some groundwork (for a future trade) . . . Hopefully [he'll] be able to get something done in the offseason.

"But like I said earlier, we know it’s an area that we need to improve upon . . . [We] know what our back end is all about. We need to . . . really improve that area of our team . . . [It's] something that I know [Sweeney's] going to be very focused on.”

Fast-forward to the present day. The Bruins finished the season with the aging, declining Chara, now 39, as their No. 1 defenseman, and the 5-foot-8 Krug as their No. 2 while posting a career-high 21:37 of ice time per game. The diminutive Krug perhaps paid the price for that wear and tear with right shoulder surgery last month that could sideline him until late October, which raises red flags about whether he should again play those kinds of heavy-duty minutes given his offensive value.

Beyond those two, the Bruins’ defensive prospects aren’t bright. The body of 35-year-old Dennis Seidenberg is breaking down, and the B's would love to be out from under the final two years (at $4 million per) of his contract. Both McQuaid and Kevan Miller are limited, stay-at-home defensemen better cast as bottom-pair guys. Youngsters Colin Miller, Zach Trotman and Joe Morrow weren’t able to lock down roles last season for a multitude of reasons. Miller is the only one who appears to have potential to develop into a top-four NHL defenseman; Trotman and Morrow seem poised to be passed by other young D-men (Brandon Carlo, Robbie O’Gara, Jakub Zboril, Jeremy Lauzon) in the organizational ranks sooner rather than later.

Botton line: It simply doesn’t feel like the Bruins have the answer to their defense woes, at least in the short term, within their system.

They need a No. 1 defenseman in the prime of his career, or being groomed into that prime, who can ideally allow the Bruins coaching staff to start easing up on Chara's ice time. Chara is a No. 1 in name only these days, and would be much better served as a middle-pairing D-man playing closer to 20 minutes a night and removed from the power play, where he no longer features his booming slap shot very much.

It’s an fact that nearly every team that’s won the Stanley Cup since the 2004-05 lockout has had a prime No. 1 defenseman in the 25-33 age range, with the exceptions of the 2006 Carolina Hurricanes and 2009 Pittsburgh Penguins. Names like Chara, Scott Niedermayer, Chris Pronger, Nik Lidstrom, Duncan Keith and Drew Doughty figured prominently in those championships, playing 30 minutes a night during the brutal two-month run to the Cup.

The Bruins don’t have that type of guy right now, and they aren’t anywhere close to competing for a Cup until they get one.

So how do you get one?

Sweeney and his management team are already deeply involved in that process, and that’s where names like Jacob Trouba, Sami Vatanen and Matthew Dumba will figure prominently in trade discussions this summer. But those types of players are costly, both in terms what will be needed to be surrendered to acquire them -- trade partners will undoubtedly ask for such talent as David Pastrnak, Frank Vatrano and Ryan Spooner -- and in what they'll be seeking in new contracts, since those demands are what's pushing them into the trade market to begin with.

Ultimately, there’s no guarantee that Sweeney and Co. will close the deal for any of these defensemen, given how hard it is to acquire young talent in trades in the NHL. There's also no guarantee the Bruins will target the right guy in a blockbuster trade, seeing how their scouting staff has whiffed on players like Hayes, Zac Rinaldo and Brett Connolly in recent years.  

The Bruins can hope their amateur scouting and development group can unearth a gem. After all, the Blackhawks probably didn’t know they had a future Conn Smythe winner in Keith when they selected him 54th overall in the 2002 draft. The Penguins got a diamond in Kris Letang with the 62nd overall pick in 2005 NHL. The Bruins, too, struck gold when they acquired Johnny Boychuk from the Colorado Avalanche in a deal for energy forward Matt Hendricks. Within a few years, Boychuk developed into a top-pairing stud on a Stanley Cup championship team. 

So perhaps one of the young prospects currently in the Bruins system is the ultimate answer as an eventual replacement for Chara.

But that’s something tough to count on, especially since -- even if it happens -- it's unlikely to happen in time to provide help next season. Sweeney and Neely need to pull off something in the epic-acquisition category this summer, whether it’s a deal for Kevin Shattenkirk and/or something worked out with a team like Winnipeg for a stud like Trouba.

Both their jobs, and the immediate health and well-being of a Bruins organization currently in distress, may very well depend on it.