Seguin picking up things fast
WILMINGTON — During the first two days of on-ice sessions at Ristuccia Arena this week, all eyes have naturally settled on Tyler Seguin, the 18-year-old with No. 57 and all the expectations of a top-two pick planted on his back.
That weight, plus the 7 pounds of muscle he’s added since his junior season in Plymouth ended, have done little to slow down Seguin.
The 6-foot-1-inch, 186-pound Seguin has been the wonder of Bruins development camp. He’s played with poise. He’s played with skill. And he’s played at a frenzied pace that’s made observers — the stands have been crammed with puckheads craving action as well as relief from the heat — wonder whether his water bottles are brimming with espresso.
“Terrific speed,’’ said general manager Peter Chiarelli. “He pushes the puck at that speed. He’s always attacking with speed. That’s one of his assets. A tremendous asset.’’
Seguin wowed Chiarelli, coach Claude Julien, and the rest of the Bruins staff on Wednesday with back-to-back, top-shelf, backhand goals during a shootout drill. Yesterday, Seguin lined up between No. 32 overall pick Jared Knight — the first two products of the Phil Kessel trade, the gift that keeps on giving (the Maple Leafs will also fork over their 2011 first-round selection) — and Jordan Caron, the Bruins’ 2009 first-rounder.
Based on Seguin’s all-around game, Knight’s offensive bent, and Caron’s brawn, it could be a first- or second-line unit in the NHL in future seasons.
“The stuff that he has, you don’t find,’’ Chiarelli said of Seguin. “All the things that he has in his whole package, there’s not many players that have that.’’
Throughout the week, as the second-youngest player in camp, Seguin has been trying to remain modest as he works to gain the respect of his teammates and bosses. The Bruins have not guaranteed Seguin a big-league spot. Like the rest of the campers, Seguin has yet to earn the right to wear his preferred NHL number (No. 19). If Seguin doesn’t make the Bruins, he must be returned to his junior team in the Ontario Hockey League for 2010-11.
“My goal is to come into these camps, make an impression, work my hardest, earn a spot, and be an impact player my rookie year,’’ Seguin said. “Obviously, if that doesn’t work out, I’ll be disappointed. But it’s just adversity. I have to face it head-on and keep improving in the OHL.’’
The puck prodigy, after all, has experienced setbacks. Last winter, for the first time in his career, Seguin was cut from a team, when he didn’t make the Canadian world junior roster. A motivated Seguin returned to Plymouth and won back-to-back OHL Player of the Month honors.
But in the second round of the playoffs, Seguin didn’t score a point when Windsor, the eventual Memorial Cup champion, ended the Whalers’ season in four straight games. Marc Cantin, invited by the Bruins to camp, was one of the reasons Seguin went scoreless. Windsor deployed the 20-year-old Cantin and partner Mark Cundari as a shutdown defensive pair against Seguin.
“He wanted the puck on his stick all the time,’’ said Cantin. “We tried to get underneath his skin, get him frustrated, trying to get him to play with emotion. You could tell he was getting frustrated. After the whistle, you give him a little shot. You’re in his face all the time. He’s a player who works off confidence. If he has no confidence, you can basically shut him down. It’s not easy. He’s that good of a player where he’s able to change the momentum of the game single-handedly.
“The speed of the game basically depends on how fast he is with the puck. You’ve just got to make sure you play him honestly. You can’t cheat. You’ve got to have a good stick. He has the ability to not only score but make you look bad while doing it. He’s that skilled of a player.’’
Cantin and the Spitfires ended Seguin’s season, but they also might have done the Bruins a favor. Seguin continued to think about the sweep and his 0-0—0 line as he prepared for the NHL combine. Seguin, who weighed as little as 172 pounds early in 2009-10, could approach 190 pounds when main camp kicks off in September. Chiarelli said if Seguin hadn’t put on as much weight as he has, he would be assigned to Plymouth for 2010-11 because of the fear of injury.
“Motivation for the combine, for sure,’’ Seguin said. “It was right around the corner. I always had the Windsor series in the back of my mind. I wanted to go put up good numbers at the combine.’’
And now, Seguin has arrived. The question is how he’ll perform against muscle-bound men — Zdeno Chara, please step up — in big-boy camp. The 18-year-old will find it harder battling for body position and loose pucks in the danger areas. Seguin might not have the time and space to dangle around defensemen and set himself up for his heavy, quick wrist shot.
But what has the Bruins excited, perhaps more than the skill and hockey sense, is the tempo with which Seguin has skated this week. At times, Seguin has looked like a young Chris Drury: a relentless, predatory, puck-starved shark who’ll force opponents to make mistakes.
“He’ll be a tough player to play against,’’ said assistant general manager Don Sweeney. “You understand that time and space for him, he can create it in an instant when he gets up to speed. He does things at full speed. That’s going to create a lot of anxiety for all defensemen. You don’t understand whether or not you’re supposed to challenge him and try to take away his space through the neutral zone, then risk him going around you.
“Or back in and risk him creating space that’s now in front of him over the offensive blue line. I think he does a real good job of recognizing that at, really, an instant. He’s a little ahead of the game in being able to see it, but also being able to utilize the speed and the ability he has. He can play it behind you. He can chip it to an area. I think he’s pretty comfortable with the puck as well.’’
Mark Stuart signed a one-year, $1.675 million extension yesterday. Stuart was a restricted free agent with arbitration rights, but opted not to file by the June 28 deadline because the sides were close to an agreement. Stuart was coming off a two-year contract that paid him an average $1.3 million per season. He will be an unrestricted free agent after 2010-11. Stuart appeared in 56 games in 2009-10, scoring two goals and five assists while logging 80 penalty minutes. Stuart had dressed in a team-leading 214 consecutive games (regular season and playoffs) until he sat out against Chicago Dec. 18 because of a broken sternum. It was one of three freak injuries that shelved the 26-year-old Stuart for 26 games, as he also suffered a broken pinkie and an infection. With the defensive-minded Stuart in the fold, the Bruins have their projected six-man blue line under contract for 2010-11 . . . David Krejci, knocked out for the playoffs with a dislocated right wrist in Game 3 of the second round, said his rehab and recovery are progressing on schedule. Krejci will have pins removed from his wrist in a month. He said he’ll be 100 percent for the start of training camp unlike last year, when he was still recovering from offseason hip surgery . . . Jeff LoVecchio accepted his qualifying offer and signed a one-year extension ($605,000 in the NHL, $62,500 in the AHL). The left wing scored 15 goals and nine assists in 65 games for Providence in 2009-10. LoVecchio could be an energy player with the Bruins in case of injuries.
Fluto Shinzawa can be reached at email@example.com.