Segue to the NHL
At 18, fast-rising Seguin is ready for the next step
The diners at Westin Bristol Place, among them business types who conduct their affairs at the hotel just blocks from Toronto’s Pearson International Airport, could not ignore the scent that accompanied their continental breakfasts on a late May morning.
Around the corner was a space that included oddities for a hotel ballroom: hoses and tubes attached to stationary bikes, a bench press, and a parade of shirtless teenagers shuttling through tests for NHL general managers.
One requirement of the NHL combine is the Wingate test, the 30-second bicycle sprint that measures power output. It is considered one of the hardest tests of a hockey player’s career. By one player’s count, roughly half of the 100-plus teenagers got sick after their spins. By midmorning, the tang of vomit floated from the ballroom and settled in the lobby over the eggs, toast, and coffee of the patrons who had chosen the unfortunate dining location.
Tyler Seguin, putting out 15.4 watts per kilogram of peak power (second-highest of the combine), had contributed to the odor.
Six weeks earlier, Taylor Hall and the Windsor Spitfires had punted Seguin and his Plymouth Whalers from the Ontario Hockey League playoffs. Four games. Four losses. Not a single point for Seguin, who was checked nonstop by Windsor’s shutdown defense duo of Mark Cundari and Marc Cantin and center Scott Timmins. Hall, meanwhile, recorded three goals and five assists.
The Spitfires won their second straight Memorial Cup. Hall became the first player to snatch back-to-back Cup MVPs. After the playoffs, the 18-year-old Seguin bunkered down in Plymouth, Mich., to prepare for the combine. The 6-foot-1-inch, 186-pound center, his body rippling to show off the “SEGUIN’’ tattoo etched onto a scroll on the back of his left arm, didn’t disappoint in Toronto.
“This past year was hardest on him,’’ said Paul Seguin, Tyler’s father. “They really shut down Tyler that series. But the next time he steps on the ice, he’ll be 10 times better because of that situation.
“He never had that situation before. After the season ended, all he did was work out. At the combine, pretty much whatever team person was there said, ‘Wow, look at the shape of Seguin. He put on 15 pounds since the season ended.’
“He was in top form. All because he lost. He didn’t succeed. But it’s how you learn from that. That’s what makes you successful.’’
“He definitely controls the pace,’’ Plymouth coach Mike Vellucci said of Seguin, the OHL Player of the Year (48 goals, 58 assists, 106 points). “The puck’s on his stick quite a bit.
“He can pull it up. Slow it down. Speed it up. He can shift and make it difficult for defenders. He can go around you as quickly as he can pull up and hit the open man.
“Most of the goals he scored was using his speed. You talk about Taylor Hall’s speed. He’s not far behind at all. He’s got a second or third gear. Even when the puck’s on his stick, he’s still skating at that speed.’’
Hall is the better fit for the Bruins, the lowest-scoring team in the NHL in 2009-10. But Seguin, the top-ranked prospect per the NHL’s Central Scouting Bureau, is no consolation prize. Seguin, whom Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli compares to Steven Stamkos and Pat LaFontaine, is a playmaker who can use his size, speed, strength, and creativity to produce his own offense.
Seguin, a natural center, started on the right side in Plymouth, flanking center Matt Caria with Chris Terry. Because of Boston’s depth at center, Seguin could repeat the process next season.
“Speed, innovation, vision,’’ said Chiarelli, ticking off Seguin’s qualities. “He’s got a real sneaky wrist shot, which is underutilized. He finds a way to go around people with his speed.
“It’s his dimensional speed and dimensional quickness. He’s a very smart player. A responsible player.’’
In Whitby, Paul was told that 4-year-old Tyler couldn’t play until he was 6. By then, he had been roller skating for two years, and Paul was curious to see how his son would do on the ice.
“In West Hill [just east of Toronto], I heard they might make an exception if the boy could skate,’’ Paul recalled. “I found one coach who’d let him on the ice when he was 4.
“As soon as he stepped onto the ice for practice, he showed the coach very quickly that he could skate. I still remember him walking into that arena in West Hill. He showed that a 4-year-old could skate with 6-year-olds.’’
After spending most of his youth hockey playing against older kids, Seguin starred in the Greater Toronto Hockey League.
“When you walked into the rink, your eyes were attached to him all the time,’’ said Ian Pulver, Seguin’s agent, who was scouting potential clients at the time. “Whenever he was on the ice, he was dynamic offensively.
“Over time, he became a complete player. He started to understand at an early age that to get to the next level, he had to be versatile and multidimensional. His teams were good but not great. He would play against teams that were better. He was challenged by that. That made him better.’’
Seguin’s plan was to attend the University of Michigan; he’d met coach Red Berenson and assistant Mel Pearson at summer camps. Vellucci and the Whalers hoped otherwise.
After courting Seguin prior to the 2007 OHL draft, Vellucci, also the Plymouth GM, targeted him with the ninth pick. Seguin might have gone higher, but there was uncertainty as to whether he would choose college hockey over major junior. Two slots before he had his pick, Vellucci thought Seguin was gone.
“Ottawa had the pick two before us,’’ Vellucci said. “They said the word, ‘Tyler.’ My heart dropped. I thought, ‘Oh my God, I just lost him.’ ’’
But the 67’s picked Tyler Toffoli, not Tyler Seguin, who went to Vellucci and the Whalers at No. 9.
Choosing juniors over college, Seguin landed in Plymouth in the fall of 2008, where he started on the fourth line under then-coach Greg Stefan.
In Game No. 16, Seguin scored his first goal. Four days later, Stefan resigned to take a job with the Carolina Hurricanes. Vellucci took over and put Seguin in the proper position.
“He wasn’t put in the right environment at the time,’’ said Vellucci of Seguin (21-46—67 as a rookie). “He was on the fourth line playing with a couple older guys who weren’t really goal scorers.
“For me, Tyler has to be with goal scorers and skilled players. It was a struggle for him early on. I took over and immediately put him on the second line with two better offensive players. He took off.
“It was something he had to go through — struggle, then learn how to overcome it.’’
Asked why Seguin was cut, Pulver said, “I don’t know. I do know that it was the first time that, for a player of his caliber, someone said no to him.
“I think they were wrong. I’m happy to go on record with that. I think they made a mistake. Having said that, everybody makes a decision in this world. It was a tough call. Fair or not fair, it made him better as a person.’’
Seguin was crushed. Vellucci assumed the blame, explaining that he reminded Seguin to play a safe game when he should have been more offensive-minded.
But in December and January, Seguin was named OHL Player of the Month.
“We had a conversation,’’ said Paul Seguin. “It’s about how you rise after you fall. He was told there were things he needed to improve on. He improved on it. He was OHL Player of the Month for the next two months straight. He won the scoring race. That was all two months after he was cut. That’s how you develop. That’s how you get better.’’
It’s a development curve that Seguin repeatedly has shown. At the start of 2009-10, he was Central Scouting’s 10th-ranked North American skater. By year-end, he had replaced Hall as the No. 1 prospect.
“I came into this year ranked 10th overall and I wanted to keep on improving,’’ Seguin said. “I had a pretty good improvement level. My goals and mind-set really stayed the same.
“I wasn’t used to the spotlight. But I thought I handled it very well and was still able to perform. I think those are qualities you need at the next level.’’
When the Whalers reconvene for 2010-11, Vellucci doesn’t expect Seguin to be there. If Seguin — who cannot be assigned to the AHL in 2010-11 because of his age — makes the NHL, Vellucci will remember two things about the teenager.
First there was the season-opening practice last August, when Seguin showed his coach he had something to prove.
“I could tell the difference,’’ Vellucci said. “The way he competed in that practice, he wanted to get better. One-on-one, he tried to score. One-on-two, he tried to score.
“He did that every single practice, all year long. I loved that about him. I could tell he was committed. He wanted to be the best player in the league.’’
Then there was a regular-season game against Windsor. Plymouth leading by a goal. Defensive-zone draw late in the third. Seguin gets tossed from the faceoff circle. Windsor wins the faceoff and the puck goes to the point. Seguin steps out, hits the deck, and blocks the shot. He gets to his skates and knocks the puck out of the zone.
Fluto Shinzawa can be reached at email@example.com.