BOSTON – Harnessing the type of skills Tyler Seguin possesses is impossible without an overflow of confidence.
Luckily for the 19-year-old and the Bruins, Seguin usually has a full tank of pride.
If he’d started to doubt himself at all after sitting out the Bruins’ first 11 playoff games, Seguin refueled after starting the Eastern Conference Final with three goals in two games.
Now, assuming he’s in the Boston lineup when the Stanley Cup Final starts Wednesday in Vancouver, Seguin has a chance to be a difference-maker on the sport’s biggest stage.
Even though he didn’t hit the score sheet in Game 7 against Tampa Bay – only three players did in the 1-0 Bruins victory – Seguin proved that now almost a full calendar year from getting drafted out of junior by Boston, he’s grasping everything it’s going to take to be a star in the NHL.
In his 14:53 of ice time, he attempted seven shots (three on net). But more importantly, he threw a hit and was responsible enough defensively to not have the Lightning score a goal against his line. He took care of the puck when he had to and made things happen in the corners of both zones.
For a teenager playing in his first-ever Game 7, Seguin showed his fearless side.
“I think I’ve gotten used to that,” said Seguin today about pressure. “Pretty much every game is a big game now. The last 15 games have been big games. Really I just want to stay focused, play my game and have fun. I think if I’m going out there worrying about making mistakes, that’s when I’m going to make them. I just go out there, do my best and not worry about making mistakes.”
Seguin has hardly had to worry throughout his career, as he went from a star in the minor ranks in the Toronto area to a 106-point scorer with Plymouth in the Ontario Hockey League. When he showed up at Bruins development camp last summer just a couple weeks after going to Boston with the No. 2 overall pick, he clearly was the best talent among Boston’s prospects. He shined during rookie camp and the two rookie games – which were moved to the Garden because of Seguin’s popularity – in the fall.
When you look back at it, Seguin scored his first NHL goal in just his second NHL game, and on an impressive breakaway no less. Maybe things were coming just a little too easy for him.
For a confluence of reasons, including an apparent fear of contact and battling, Seguin only scored 10 more goals the rest of the regular season. His playmaking was reduced to treating the puck as though it was on fire and the coaching staff couldn’t afford to be too patient with him during games. He sat out seven games healthy in the regular season before his playoff-opening run of press-box visits.
Now Seguin’s rookie season could’ve gone one of two ways once it became apparent that only an injury would get him in the playoff lineup. He could’ve chalked the year up to a loss and enjoyed an unending supply of press-box hot dogs, popcorn, pretzels and desserts. Or he could stay focused, keep himself in game mode and prove that – even if he didn’t get into a game – the decision to keep him in Boston all year was the right move.
With a natural dose of confidence as ample as his hockey-god-given speed and shot, Seguin chose the latter and it paid off against the Lightning. But maybe more impressive than his offensive eruption in Game 1 and 2 while replacing Patrice Bergeron in the lineup, was the way he handled himself on the ice over the course of the rest of the series. He didn’t get frustrated when the Lightning took more notice of him and began to get a read on his moves. That’s why Game 7 might’ve been his best game. He didn’t produce, but he was front and center among Boston’s offensive standouts in a game Tampa Bay goaltender Dwayne Roloson seemed destined to steal.
Over the course of the five games after Bergeron returned, Seguin continued to make an impression on head coach Claude Julien, who had the unenviable task of scratching veteran energy player Shawn Thornton every night in order to keep the kid in the lineup.
“I think he’s grown a lot from the end of the regular season to that first game he played in the playoffs. And whatever the reasons are we tried to handle it the best we could and him being around the team and warm-ups and then when he got his chance I think he took advantage of it,” explained Julien. “But I see a more confident Tyler in the playoffs. As he also mentioned, he’s going to areas where before he was going there but probably not going in there with lots of confidence. And I think the fact that he’s got that confidence, he’s skating a lot better, he’s confident in making some plays. And for that reason he was kept in the lineup.
“I mean to certain people you look at his game and say, ‘well he’s got those six points but didn’t produce.’ But that’s not an issue with us. I think what we look at when we look at Tyler is what he brings on a nightly basis shift by shift. And even though he hadn’t scored, he still created some plays, he still created some opportunities. And that’s what you need from him. So he’s been good and we’ve had to take somebody out of the lineup to make room for him that also deserves to be in there. And I think the whole situation hasn’t been easy, but our guys have handled it like real pros and it’s about the team right now. And we’re happy with what he’s brought and how it’s been handled.”
Regardless of what happens to the Bruins in this upcoming Cup Final, you have a feeling they’re in for a few more appearances among the NHL final two in the years ahead with Seguin as a centerpiece. He might not have put up the type of numbers you expect from someone of his skill set, but the experience he’s gained being around a championship-caliber team has to be more valuable than logging a lot of minutes for a loser.
And since he’s understood that from Day One and hasn’t let sporadic playing time and healthy scratches turn his self confidence level into self pity, his on-ice skills have shined at times when you least expected them to.
The 2011 Stanley Cup Final could provide yet another surprising stage for Seguin to star.