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A bit of a leap

Seguin has learned that the adjustment from juniors to pros is a big one

By Fluto Shinzawa
Globe Staff / January 29, 2011

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RALEIGH, N.C. — On Monday, prior to the Bruins’ 2-0 loss to the Kings, Tyler Seguin paused for some rare downtime in the lobby of the team hotel. Nearly seven months ago, the last time the 18-year-old was in Los Angeles, he wasn’t even a Bruin, much less an NHLer.

“Is that how long it’s been?’’ Seguin asked. “It seems a long time ago. Many things have happened since then. It’s been a crazy seven months.’’

Late last June, Seguin traveled from his home in the greater Toronto area to Los Angeles for one of the first steps in his boy-becomes-man adventure. On June 25, Edmonton drafted Taylor Hall with the first overall pick. Minutes later, Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli approached the podium at the Staples Center to announce the first of many bounties of the gift that keeps on giving, better known as the Phil Kessel trade.

Three days later, Seguin arrived in Boston for his first official visit as a Bruin. In July, Seguin participated in his first NHL development camp. On Aug. 3, Seguin signed a three-year, $3.55 million entry-level contract, officially becoming a professional hockey player.

“You can imagine what’s going to happen next and all that stuff,’’ Seguin said of how he spent his final summer as an amateur. “But you really can’t expect anything. I didn’t want to come in here with any expectations. I wanted to come in here with an open mind. Obviously, it’s be en more different than anything I ever thought of.’’

Now here he is, with his 19th birthday on Monday, sharing a city with the league’s elite. Tonight, he’ll participate in the SuperSkills segment of the weekend, then return to Boston tomorrow while teammates Tim Thomas and Zdeno Chara participate in the All-Star Game.

It’s an appropriate setting for Seguin, who’s shown that while his all-around game will require further development, his offensive skills have few equals in the world’s best league.

Seguin is one of five 2010 draftees to have jumped from junior to the NHL on a full-time basis (Hall, Alexander Burmistrov, Jeff Skinner, and Cam Fowler are the others). Through 48 games, Seguin has seven goals and nine assists, good for 17th in scoring among NHL rookies. Seguin scored a goal in his second game when he broke in on Phoenix’s Ilya Bryzgalov and beat one of the league’s best goalies with a high-speed, high-skill maneuver. Like Kessel, Seguin doesn’t slow down when the puck is on his stick. If anything, Seguin might shift into a higher gear when he’s attacking defensemen and sniffing for offensive chances.

At the other end, Seguin is soaking in the positioning required of all NHL forwards, all while shifting rapidly around the Bruins’ lineup. Because of Marc Savard’s absence at the start of the season, Seguin was mostly at center. Then he moved to wing. Most recently, Seguin’s been back in the middle as the No. 3 center. He’s played on every line, skating in skilled and energy roles.

“He’s understanding the game so much better now,’’ said coach Claude Julien. “We’re talking about understanding it at this level. At another level, those things maybe don’t make a difference. He’s understanding those things now. He’s a smart individual. He catches on pretty quickly. [Against Colorado last Saturday] in the first period, they had a four-on-two. He made a really good backcheck and did a great job at cutting the passing lane off. Those are things you’ve got to give him credit for. He’s really understanding that part of the game.’’

Seguin, however, has learned the hard way — from the bench — that the moves that worked in junior don’t often translate to the NHL. Last year, in his second junior season, Seguin ripped up the Ontario Hockey League (48-58—106). In the second round of the playoffs, Seguin’s Plymouth club was swept by Hall’s Windsor juggernaut, which won its second straight Memorial Cup. Seguin didn’t score a point against Windsor.

It’s been more like the OHL playoffs than the regular season for Seguin. Seguin is averaging 12:35 of ice time, second lowest among regular team forwards. Hall, by comparison, has 16 goals and 15 assists while averaging 18:21 of ice time per outing, more than any Boston forward save for David Krejci (19:05). Seguin is on pace for 12 goals and 15 assists, which would not qualify him to earn any of his performance bonuses.

In junior, Seguin was like a basketball prodigy who repeatedly dunked on opponents because of his speed, size, and natural ability. Among the big boys, Seguin is still learning to incorporate hockey sense into his flash-and-dash game.

He’s tried too often to split defensemen, who cut off his attacks with little effort. In junior, one of Seguin’s trademark moves was to sprint over the blue line on left wing and slam on the brakes, opening up multiple options to shoot or dish to teammates going backdoor. In the NHL, Seguin has had neither the time nor the space to execute the play.

The Bruins were aware that like any 18-year-old, Seguin would require time, perhaps more than one season, to adapt to the NHL. But Seguin had little choice but to grow up fast. There would have been little left for last season’s OHL Player of the Year to achieve in junior. Seguin is not eligible to play in the AHL, which might have been the best league to develop his smarts, battle level, and physical engagement.

“There is such a huge jump between NHL and juniors,’’ Seguin said. “There’s that second that’s not there anymore that there was before. It’s the difference between being able to stop and take a slap shot, but having to take a snap shot. That half-second isn’t there anymore.’’

The club’s original plan was for Seguin to live with a billet family in Boston this season to help him acclimate to the NHL lifestyle. But upon consultation with Seguin, his family, and his agent, the 18-year-old has set off on his own, living in a downtown residence.

“I’m living on my own for the first time and I’m 18,’’ Seguin said. “I’m learning how to cook and look after myself a bit more. Do the dishes. The stuff that my mom usually takes care of back home. I don’t think you’d say it’s hard, but you have to man up a little bit. You definitely mature quicker.’’

In the NHL, there’s no room for boys. Seguin is still trying to become a man.

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