By Joe Haggerty
WILMINGTON The Bruins are going through their worst stretch of the season, saddledwith road-weary legs after playing 12 of their last 16 games away from home.But through it all, Tyler Seguin is playing some of thebest hockey of his rookie season.
The grueling stretch has clearly had an effect on some of the older players like 43-year-oldMark Recchi (two points and a minus-2 in the last 10 games). But Seguin has been energized, witha goal and six shots on net in his last two games.
The 19-year-old has earned some power play time from coach Claude Julien in each of the last two games, and Seguin was easily Bostons best forward on the ice during the loss to Toronto Saturday night. He also impressively shook off a Patric Hornqvist elbow to the head in the first period against Nashville, and kept skating hard despite seven stitches to his left ear.
Its allbeen part of the natural progression for the Bs rookie.Seguin knows that good, consistent, competitive performances can mean helping his team and getting a better chance to crack the playoff lineup for Boston.He's way past Steve Stamkos comparisons and first-year point projections, and simply wants to add to the B's winning side of the ledger.
Its about finding what role youre going to have in this league and going after it, said Seguin. Im trying to get it whether its being involved in the play, or hitting and finishing checks just a little bit more. I think Im still just trying to find my way and do my best.
I know I still have a lot more in me. I have a ton to learn. Ive always been a statistical person and I know I can get a lot more points. But its been a slow process and Ive had some ups and downs. Its getting to crunch time in the season and I want to show everybody that Im ready to be here in the end. I want to win and want to have a championship, even if its in my first year. I want to be a part of that.
Seguin knows he wont be winning the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year, or putting up gaudy first-yeartotals like Logan Couture or the now-injured Taylor Hall. But, conversely, there arent many lottery level draft picks witha legitimate chance at winning the Stanley Cup.
The understanding of team concept over individual accomplishments normally doesnt register with young players establishing themselves in the league. But Seguin has been an exception to the rule for many things, andhe understands what his team requires. There was actually a head-scratching column in the Edmonton Journallast month that took Seguin to task for putting team goals ahead of individual stuff like the Calder Trophy -- and seemed to have a problem with the youngster because he had his priorities in line.
It didnt happen overnight, of course -- there were long stretches with little progress early in the season -- but Julien gave Seguin a ringing endorsement recently that the rookie is really beginning to get things. And Seguin's mindset simply proves that his first-year progress has been a success, and continues to improve with each passing day.
Hes slowly getting better, said Julien. The things weve been working on with him are starting to pay off. Hes competing a little better, and when you compete a little better in certain areas then your skill level begins to take over.
The skill level we know is there, and its all about how he exposes it. I think he exposed it by competing in certain areas and making sure he has the puck on his stick. He has to play with the puck, and I think hes been a lot better with regard to that.
Some of Seguins transformation over the last month came on the heels of a pair of healthy scratches against the Canadiens and Red Wings in big Februarygames. The message from the coaching staff was received loud and clear by Seguin; he's stepped up his battle in every zone on the ice, and consequently becomestronger on and off the puck.
Nobody expectsSeguin to hammer players through the boards or turn into a Milan Lucic-style hitting machine, but that doesnt mean there arent players he can emulate while developing into a two-way center. The two registered hits against the Maple Leafs were eye-opening, consideringthathe understandably shied away from contact earlier this year.
Seguin is quick to say he aims to be his own player, but he's also smart enough to know that he can learn quite a bit from watching Patrice Bergeron go about his business.
Bergeron is the consummate two-way center in the defensive and offensive ends of the ice, and thats the kind of player Seguin aspires to be.
I think my whole life Ive always wanted to be a good all-around player and a good leader, and Bergie is definitely all of those things, said Seguin. Bergeron isa very focused guy, and all of the guys in the room respect him for that. I think in the end you have to have your own game, so I dont want to be Patrice Bergeron. But everything he does is goodfrom theD-zone to his skill, and the way hes positioned on the PK and the PP. You can throw him in any situation, and thats who I want to be in the future.
Obviously Im not 220 pounds, so when some of the bigger boys finish their checks then I might fall down. But I want to be more involved. I want to take anything I can get, and I want to win.
The first step to becoming a winning player is actually learning what it takes to win, and it seems that Seguin is getting it at the tail end of an eucational first season in the NHL.