Room to go, and to grow, at center
Seguin option for Bruins in middle
MONTREAL - Tyler Seguin raced over the offensive blue line, slammed on the brakes, and considered his options.
Nathan Horton was rolling down the left side. Jordan Caron was streaking far post and calling for the puck. Seguin went with Option B.
Seguin, who had posted up on the left side of the boards and pulled into the middle, hit Caron with a diagonal pass. Before Peter Budaj could slide over in time, Caron had one-timed the puck past the Montreal goalie for the Bruins’ seventh and final goal in Sunday’s 7-3 preseason win in Halifax, Nova Scotia.
“Kind of made a dangerous pass,’’ Seguin said. “If that didn’t go through, they could have been gone. But lucky enough, it got through and Jordy didn’t make a mistake.’’
It was a high-risk, high-reward play that was among Seguin’s favorites in junior hockey. Because of his superior speed and skill, Seguin pulled it off routinely, putting himself in position for a shot or spotting a teammate going backdoor.
It rarely worked last year. For whatever reason - lack of confidence, speed and strength of opponents - Seguin couldn’t pull off the maneuver with any consistency.
That might change this season, especially when he takes shifts at center, his natural position, like he did Sunday.
“He just has more space at center,’’ said general manager Peter Chiarelli. “He plays a slightly different game. Wing has more stops and starts. He has to refocus at whatever position he’s in. But it’s more natural for him at center.’’
Seguin had a goal and an assist while centering Caron and Horton Sunday. He should have had a second helper had Budaj not pushed from right to left to snatch a sure goal by Horton. At center, Seguin has shown explosive wheels - he can cycle around the ice instead of stopping and starting like he does at wing - that have made his hands even more dangerous.
On his goal, Seguin scooted over the blue line and snapped off a third-period shot to beat Budaj.
“It feels good,’’ Seguin said of his preseason game. “I feel more comfortable and confident. It definitely feels good when it pays off, whether it be on the scoresheet or creating scoring chances.’’
If Seguin can be as comfortable and reliable at center during the regular season, he gives the coaching staff another up-the-middle offensive option. The plan calls for David Krejci and Patrice Bergeron to be the top two centers. Chris Kelly and Gregory Campbell will be third and fourth centers, giving the Bruins bottom-six grit and defensive acumen.
But if the Bruins want more offense at center, Seguin can take shifts in the middle to take advantage of his skating and shot.
“Tyler’s playing with more confidence this year,’’ said coach Claude Julien. “He’s got a year under his belt. He understands the league now. He knows what he has to do. Confidence and experience do a lot of things for players in this league. You’re seeing it from Tyler.’’
It’s more likely, however, that Seguin will break camp on the right side, where he played most of last season. Last night, Seguin skated on the No. 1 line alongside Milan Lucic and David Krejci in the spot that Horton usually fills. Horton has that spot on lockdown. Rich Peverley has the inside line on the No. 2 job with Bergeron and Brad Marchand.
Seguin could start the season on the No. 3 line with Kelly and Benoit Pouliot. But if the Bruins want more offensive pop from the second line, Seguin could switch places with Peverley.
Long-term, Seguin projects to be a center. Once he gets a better handle on the position’s defensive nuances, Julien should have more trust in putting the 19-year-old in the middle.
It’s a process that Bergeron went through. A natural center, he played right wing as a rookie in 2003-04. In 2005-06, as a second-year NHLer, Bergeron switched to center for good.
“You learn a lot switching positions,’’ Bergeron said. “It always helps your versatility on the ice. Being able to play all positions is something that’s very important as a forward. It’s going to make him an even better player than he is right now.’’
Regardless of where Seguin plays, more is expected of the second-year pro. Teammates believe he has that in him.
“It doesn’t surprise me,’’ Bergeron said of Seguin’s jump in camp. “I knew he was going to come in here and be excited, knowing what happened. I felt like that coming back my second year. I felt like I knew the guys. I felt comfortable. I knew I could play in the league. I learned a lot. He’s a smart kid. He made sure he was going to be ready over the short offseason that he was going to be working hard. You could tell right away that his skating - it was still good before - was even better. But it’s more his confidence with the puck and making plays.’’