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Without Savard, Seguin should be pivotal

Posted by Christopher L. Gasper, Globe Staff  February 8, 2011 12:33 PM

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Marc Savard's battered and beclouded brain has taken him off the ice and put his season on it. It's a sad sight to see Savard forced into another hockey hiatus by concussion symptoms, his return to the game currently as unclear as his mind.

First and foremost, the concern lies with the 33-year-old center's well-being and his ability to function normally again not only, hopefully, as a hockey player but more importantly as a human being. As callous as it may seem, the Bruins' season does not end because Savard's suddenly has. Such is the cruel reality of professional sports.

In Savard's tragedy there is opportunity, a chance for Tyler Seguin, the latest next big thing in Black and Gold, to jumpstart his career. Out of necessity Seguin's learning curve can be accelerated, if the Bruins are willing to. That is a big if, apparently.

As faithful pucks chronicler Fluto Shinzawa pointed out today, Seguin could be a healthy scratch tomorrow against the Canadiens. He has played fewer than 10 minutes in four straight games, and the Bruins called up another promising center prospect, Zach Hamill, from Providence and also recalled winger Jordan Caron from the Baby Bruins.

But sitting Seguin now would be a huge mistake by the Bruins brass. Give him an opportunity to prove that this season is more than a dry run for greatness yet to come.

The casual hockey fan would expect that a player with the hype that followed Seguin here would be easy to identify on the ice, that he would stand out, not blend in. Visions of an instant-impact franchise player have had to be readjusted. Shuffled back between wing and center, the second overall pick in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft has been an inconsistent and inconspicuous presence for the Spoked-Bs this season. He has eight goals and nine assists in 51 games.

He hasn't hurt the Bruins, but he hasn't really helped that much either. He has been a Spoked-B bystander for the most part.

If it's any solace for Bruins backers, while Seguin has not made his mark yet, the man who is responsible for him being in a Bruins sweater, ex-communicated sniper Phil Kessel, is already trying to shoot his way out of Toronto.

Seguin will be a franchise forward one day, but that day is not here. However, no one is asking him to morph into Steven Stamkos or Sidney Crosby overnight with Savard back home in Ontario. All the Bruins need now is for him to be a crafty, skilled third-line centerman who can threaten opposing defenses with his play-making and skating.

Whether he's capable of that in this nascent stage of his NHL existence is unclear, but there is only one way to find out: take the training wheels off and turn Tyler loose.

Don't tell me Seguin is too young to handle the responsibility on a playoff team.

Look south to Carolina where Hurricanes center Jeff Skinner, who played wing on the same line with Seguin as a Midget Level player, has put up 18 goals and 23 assists in 53 games for the 'Canes, who are currently in the eighth and final Eastern Conference playoff slot. Skinner, who made the All-Star team this year, is three-and-a-half months younger than Seguin.

If Seguin succeeds then the benefits reaped are both short term and long term for his development into the dynamic force the Bruins hope he becomes. If he fails in the role, then there is no harm. You know that you need to go out and get additional help upfront, something that Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli may have had to do even with Savard still available.

Savard was showing signs of rounding into form before taking a pair of bruising hits from Pittsburgh's Deryk Engelland and Hunwick a week apart, but on the whole he was a shadow of his former self in 25 games, posting 10 points (two goals, eight assists). The prorated portion of Savard's $4.007 million salary is certainly a nice chip for Chiarelli to play with, but simply finding another forward to fill out the lineup isn't automatically the right move. The Bruins could use some augmentation on the blue line as well, so Seguin's potential emergence could save those funds for that purpose.

The Feb. 28 trade deadline is 20 days away. The Bruins have 10 games between now and then, starting tomorrow night on home ice against Les Canadiens. Why not give Seguin a 10-game audition to see if he can fill the open pivot spot?

This sort of thing has happened before. You may recall that during the 2007-08 season, the Bruins had a promising young rookie center named David Krejci. The slick Czech, who had been demoted to Providence during the season, blossomed after Savard suffered a cracked bone in his back when he was checked by Steve Begin, then of the Canadiens.

With Patrice Bergeron still feeling his way back from his own concussion issues, Krejci was given a chance to play a more prominent role, and he responded. The crafty Krejci had nine points in the seven games Savard sat out, including a five-game point streak. The nine points represented a third of his total production for the season.

Krejci continued his evolution in the playoffs against Montreal, even with an ailing Savard returning. Krejci was second in playoff scoring that year with 1-4-5 totals. It was the turning point in the pivot's career.

This could be the same type of opportunity for Seguin. The Bruins just have to give him a chance.

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The word

Christopher L. Gasper riffs on the news

Dearth

...That's what the Patriots have when it comes to picks in the 2013 NFL Draft, which starts Thursday. After all those years of stockpiling picks the way a survivalist does non-perishables the Patriots have just five picks in this year's draft, thanks to Band-aid trades for Albert Haynesworth, Chad Ochocinco and Aqib Talib. Five picks would be the fewest draft picks in franchise history. (Part of that is attributable to the trimming of the draft to just seven rounds in 1994). Further complicating matters is that two of the Patriots' greatest needs are at wide receiver and cornerback, positions where they have sustained draft droughts. With that in mind, I'm convinced the Patriots are going trade back out of the first round of a quanity-over-quality draft where you're just as likely to pick a Pro Bowl player in the second and third round as you are in the first round.

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