WILMINGTON, Mass. – With time running out to show it wasn’t a waste to keep him in Boston all season, and with the Bruins desperate for him to help them in the absence of Patrice Bergeron, Tyler Seguin is now getting gushing reviews for the way he practices.
“The way Tyler practiced today, it was really encouraging,” said head coach Claude Julien at Ristuccia Arena after his team’s first on-ice session since its sweep of Philadelphia in the second round. “You saw use his speed, his skill. And again, watching the playoffs, I guess it really does make you hungry. You hope that he’s hungry enough that he steps in there and showcases what he can do.”
General manager Peter Chiarelli threw similar verbal bouquets at last summer’s No. 2 overall draft pick over the weekend, lauding how he’s stuck his “nose to the grindstone” during practices even though he knew he probably wouldn’t be playing.
That anyone needs to pat someone on the back for practicing hard in the NHL is a bit ludicrous. Regardless of age or experience, these guys are getting paid to play and that should be enough to squeeze 100 percent effort out of them every day.
But this is what the Bruins’ brain trust has been reduced to after every tactic during the regular season failed to get Seguin to commit to playing an all-around game at the sport’s highest level. While the speed and hands were evident throughout, the willingness to assert himself without the puck hindered his development.
Now at the most important time of the season, when the intensity of play is at its highest point, Seguin must take the encouragement he has received from the team brass and his teammates, and the knowledge he’s absorbed while watching the first 11 postseason games from the press box, and prove that it’s all more than just talk and hype. He has to contribute for the Bruins to have any chance of beating the Lightning without Bergeron, whose return is up in the air due to a mild concussion.
Seguin, who skated on the third line with Rich Pevereley and Michael Ryder today, said all the right things after practice about staying ready these last several weeks, learning a lot from watching and looking to do whatever it takes to the help the team. The pregame warm-ups he skated in were meant to improve his readiness, according to Julien, and Seguin claimed he’s soaked it all up.
He hasn’t played in a game since April 10 in New Jersey but isn’t worried about rust.
“I think I was staying sharp. And I feel like when you’re working out off the ice, you might be pushing yourself even harder than on the ice,” he said. “I’ve been trying to stay as sharp as I can. I’ve been bag skating, I’ve been working out a ton on the bike and just trying to stay as prepared as I can.”
Seguin’s rookie season wasn’t a total loss. He scored 11 goals in 74 games, including a couple of pretty breakaways. That was a far cry, however, from what would normally be expected from such a high draft pick.
Oh yeah, he also threw that one hit that time in Toronto when he caused a turnover that the Bruins nearly capitalized for a goal on.
Despite a few healthy scratches and a lot of time spent watching games from the bench, Seguin never seemed to accept that there’s a physical aspect to this game that a player has to add to his repertoire or he risks not fulfilling his potential left behind. No one expects him to be Milan Lucic or even Bergeron when it comes to lowering the boom on a player. But he is expected to take a hit to make a play or at least not be afraid to keep the puck on his stick for longer than “one Mississippi” while weaving through the neutral zone or playing around the net.
The flashes of Seguin’s willingness to do this during the regular season were briefer than a mosquito passing gas. Now he’s going to be thrown into a game where everyone, from the smallest player to the biggest player, the weakest to the strongest, is going to hit to hurt in an effort to get the puck or send a physical message.
In speaking to the media, Julien seemed to have laid down the gauntlet for Seguin.
“Right now, it’s crunch time. It’s about winning, and as I mentioned to him, it’s not so much about being patient and seeing things, it’s more about the results right now. It’s going to be important that he give us some results and results for him would be certainly competing really hard in all areas and utilizing his skills to create some scoring chances and some goals.”
With his skill set, just a little hint of a junkyard dog would allow Seguin to give the Bruins what they need. They’re not asking him to score a hat trick or bloody Vinny Lecavalier. They just want to see having him spend nine months around the NHL has actually matured him the way they think it has.
There will come a time years from now when Seguin will yearn for the days of getting fluffy words from his coach and GM just for practicing well. Right now, he has to take advantage of the kindness and prove to everyone the efforts to comfort him haven’t gone to waste.