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Positioning is a central issue with Seguin

TYLER SEGUIN Center or wing? TYLER SEGUIN
Center or wing?
By Fluto Shinzawa
Globe Staff / January 6, 2011

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WILMINGTON — Is Tyler Seguin an NHL center? Is he better on the wing?

Answers to those questions, like the 18-year-old’s NHL career, are still in the works.

Prior to his NHL arrival, Seguin had been playing center for Plymouth, his junior team. Before dominating in the middle, however, last season’s OHL Player of the Year played wing as a rookie in junior. It appears Seguin’s center-wing movement will continue.

At the start of the Bruins’ recent five-game road trip, Seguin was the right wing alongside Mark Recchi and Patrice Bergeron. In Atlanta and Buffalo, when Gregory Campbell was out sick, Seguin centered the fourth line between Daniel Paille and Shawn Thornton. Then in Monday’s finale in Toronto, Seguin played both positions on the No. 2 line. For stretches, he was in the middle with Bergeron on his right. Late in the game, he shifted back to wing and was replaced by Bergeron.

“Bergy was taking some faceoffs, but most of it, [Seguin] was at center,’’ said coach Claude Julien. “In cases like that, I’m kind of using both.

“If it’s late in the game and you really want to make sure you’re good in your own end, you go with the experienced guy. At the same time, Tyler’s obviously a little bit more comfortable at center using a little bit more of the ice. So you give him that opportunity as well.

“Bergy’s played wing before. I think we can alternate those two guys depending on the game situation.’’

The Bruins projected that, as a rookie, Seguin might be better suited at wing. He could use his speed to stretch out opponents and put defensemen on their heels, much like Phil Kessel (also a natural center as an amateur) did upon arriving in Boston. He could also be absolved of the defensive responsibilities required of centers.

What looked good in theory hasn’t translated to reality. So far, Seguin’s results at wing have been mixed. He hasn’t found the time and space he had in junior to be an attacking offensive presence. Defensively, he hasn’t been strong enough on the wall and in the corners.

But lately at center, Seguin has had more room to wheel with the puck and flow through the ice. In last Saturday’s 7-6 shootout loss to Buffalo, Seguin scored a game-tying third-period goal while centering Paille and Thornton. After strong board work by all three, Paille won a puck battle. At the same time, Seguin backed into the high slot to give Paille an outlet. Paille found his center and Seguin snapped a shot past Ryan Miller at 3:08 for his sixth goal.

“Just finding the space but still being the third man high in case the D want to pinch, but also finding ice to get a goal,’’ Seguin said.

Later in the third, Seguin barreled into the offensive zone on the left side, saw Steven Kampfer join the rush, and hit the defenseman with a tape-to-tape cross-ice pass. Kampfer connected for the go-ahead goal and Seguin was credited with an assist.

Two days later, Seguin was splitting time between center and wing on a skill line with Bergeron and Recchi. During the 2-1 win over Toronto, Seguin had two shots and won two of seven faceoffs.

By the conclusion of the trip, Seguin was playing better than he had at its inception. Against Tampa Bay Dec. 28, Seguin was benched for part of the third period when Julien wanted Milan Lucic’s experience alongside Bergeron and Recchi. Against the Thrashers, Seguin played only 6:30, the least amount of NHL ice time he has gotten thus far.

“I keep telling him to have that confidence, because his skill level is very good for this league as well,’’ Julien said. “He just has to start using it and have the confidence of using it.

“I think right now, those things are starting to show. A lot of it is feeling comfortable about his game and his overall game. I think that’s what’s happening right now.’’

No. 2 will try harder Wherever he has been, Tuukka Rask has been the go-to goalie. He was the man in Finland. It was that way during his first two professional years, when he was the No. 1 goalie in Providence. Last year, with Tim Thomas fighting a bum hip, Rask seized the starting job in Boston and held it through the playoffs.

Now, as Thomas holds the honor of being the NHL’s best goalie, Rask has been shunted to backup.

“You shouldn’t be feeling bad, but there’s nothing you can do about it because you haven’t played, right?’’ said Rask. “You try to find that groove, then get on it, but it’s a challenge. Hopefully I can find it.’’

Rask, pulled after 20 minutes and three goals against Buffalo, bounced back against Toronto, stopping all but one shot. Rask could be in line for another start tonight against Minnesota at TD Garden, leaving road games in Montreal (Saturday) and Pittsburgh (Monday) for Thomas.

“We’ve got a lot of games coming and we need both our goaltenders to be their best,’’ Julien said. “We need to rely on both of them.’’

Whitfield waived The Bruins waived Trent Whitfield, who has missed the entire season because of a ruptured Achilles’ tendon. He had been on long-term injured reserve. If Whitfield clears waivers by noon today, the veteran center will report to Providence, where he served as captain last year. Whitfield was available to any club for a $3,375 waiver claim . . . Mark Stuart (broken right hand, dislocated ring finger) skated on his own prior to yesterday’s practice. He hasn’t played since Dec. 7. Stuart was originally projected to miss 4-6 weeks. “He’s coming along,’’ Julien said. “I don’t know how far he is from starting to handle pucks. At least he’s on the ice. Things seem to be headed in the right direction.’’

Fluto Shinzawa can be reached at fshinzawa@globe.com.

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