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Second gear

Seguin starting to pick up speed

By Kevin Paul Dupont
Globe Staff / January 29, 2012
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We’ll see today if Bruins coach Claude Julien gives the kid a break, allows his budding offensive phenom, Tyler Seguin, to cast off those chains that bind him to the right wing wall and fly like an eagle at his natural center position.

Oh wait, wrong critter. The pick of the animal kingdom for Seguin would be a tiger. For many of his years in amateur hockey, he and his father shared a series of hand signals that served as tutoring tools for the future NHL All-Star. Paul Seguin, a former defenseman/winger at the University of Vermont, would connect with his son during games by flashing any of three simple gestures from the stands.

One signal had dad using an index finger to scrawl an imaginary figure-8.

“That meant I was skating, but not productively,’’ said the Bruins’ 19-year-old leading scorer, who today will join fellow Black-and-Golders Tim Thomas and Zdeno Chara in the NHL All-Star Game in Ottawa. “That told me I was skating, but just circling past pucks.

“That was a problem for me as I grew up, all the time, you know, I wouldn’t stop. I would just keep going and going and I would cheat offensively. And when you come here, you aren’t going to stay in the [NHL] if you are going to do that.’’

Paul Seguin would use the same index finger, in tandem with his fast-rolling wrist, to convey that his son needed to increase his speed.

“That said, ‘Hey, start skating, pick up the speed,’ ’’ said the kid who this season leads the Bruins in goals (19) and is tied with Patrice Bergeron in points (43), production linked to the fact that he is among the league’s fastest, most dynamic skaters.

And finally there was signal No. 3, which had no direct link to the skates Seguin wore or the stick he carried or the sometimes circuitous tracks he carved on the sheet. When Paul Seguin brought index finger to eye, it spoke to the very quality that ultimately will determine what level of accomplishment his son attains in the NHL.

“Whenever he touched his eye, that meant there was no passion or anything in my game,’’ said Seguin, whose fiery legs often contradict his overall cool demeanor during games. “It meant I was just going through the motions.

“We got that from ‘Eye of the Tiger,’ which was kind of the big song back then for myself and my dad. When he did the eye thing, I knew, it was always bad. It meant he was mad and he was telling me I had to get the ‘Eye of the Tiger’ going.’’

Passion for the game, for all the work and focus and even day-to-day drudgery it takes to be among the best, is usually the determining factor for all players, all sports. Seguin’s tool kit is loaded; his skating speed, force of shot, and quick release separate him from perhaps 95 percent of the game’s rank and file, including those who will fill today’s All-Star rosters.

He can scoot and shoot, and he is doing more of both this season, his second in the NHL, an impressive follow-up to his rather mundane rookie season in which he posted a mere 22 points in 74 games and was scratched for 12 of the 25 playoff games that eventually added up to a Stanley Cup.

A classic tweener

NHL season No. 1 left Seguin (who turns 20 Tuesday) wanting more this year, and he has delivered. His rookie season also had the Boston front office at times fretting over the decision to have him enter the league at age 18.

General manager Peter Chiarelli and staff were convinced that there was nothing left for Seguin to accomplish in junior hockey, where he piled up 106 points in 2009-10. But even wunderkinds as gifted as Seguin typically require time to adjust in the NHL, and on-the-job training can be perilous.

Exhibit A is Alexandre Daigle, drafted No. 1 overall in 1993. He was supposed to be Ottawa’s franchise cornerstone but his career turned out to be little more than a pocketful of pebbles.

“Sure, you worry, you have to,’’ said Chiarelli. “You have a player of his caliber, but you know, no matter who it is, you’ll have to have patience. Will the coach play him? Is he really ready? And if not, does he get shuttled out of the lineup permanently?

“Young players like that can disappear, and then you’re set back because you’ve got to rebuild a kid who comes in with talent and youthful exuberance, but now he’s lost it.’’

Seguin was a classic tweener - a sublimely talented kid, but a kid nonetheless, one who likely would have been better served by starting the season in Providence of the AHL.

There is no middle ground for “underage’’ juniors: Clubs must decide whether to keep them employed in the NHL all season or allow them another year’s incubation in juniors.

Seguin spent much of his rookie year flinching on the ice. The heavier the game became, the more he ducked and shrank, his tools rendered inoperative. He has shaken much of that timidity this season, but it was so pronounced at times last season that it ran the risk of defining his play, as it eventually did for Daigle.

“Here’s what we figured,’’ recalled Chiarelli, who selected Seguin No. 2 in the 2010 draft, after Edmonton chose Taylor Hall. “Another year of junior wasn’t going to help Tyler, because he was too fast and skilled to be there.

“So we kept him, the thinking being that because of Tyler’s character, speed, and skill, he would hang in and get there at some point. But we also didn’t figure it would be a smooth ride.

“So in the end, was I happy? Yes, but not satisfied. I was happy we had a player of his caliber, but it takes patience, and to his credit, Tyler rolled with it pretty good.’’

Not an easy thing for any kid, especially those who are offensively gifted and accustomed to leading a team’s scoring pace. To head home with less than two dozen points, after being conditioned to years of tearing holes through nets, had to be jarring as Seguin left for the summer, even with the league engraver about to carve his name on the Stanley Cup.

The year proved to be a “whirlwind,’’ said Seguin, who spent the offseason focusing on a big sophomore upgrade.

“That’s why I tried to come out flying this season,’’ he said. “I wasn’t satisfied with the Cup. Maybe that’s selfish of me to say, but you know, my first year, the Stanley Cup, that’s just amazing.

“I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t big on statistics. I always have been, in junior and growing up. I think it just shows me that I am playing well when I am getting points because it makes me think that I am doing the job in the defensive zone and that usually leads to offensive opportunities.

“And I want to be a finisher. I wasn’t happy last year just getting a mediocre 22.’’

Once and future center?

This season, Seguin is riding high at right wing on a line that has Bergeron at center and Brad Marchand on the left side. With David Krejci, Chris Kelly, and Greg Campbell holding down the other three pivot spots, it doesn’t appear that Seguin will move off the wall soon.

“But you don’t know, the opportunity could present itself,’’ said Chiarelli. “It’s still very early, and so far it has been a better fit for him. Since getting here, he’s had to get stronger, physically, and he’s had to learn to be stronger on the puck with his stick, too.

“So it’s served him well to be on the wing, and with his speed and shot, he’s dangerous over there. Being at center is more about passing and vision, which he also has, but then, is he going to get the most out of his shot?’’

Neither Bergeron nor Marchand is in Ottawa, and Julien has infinite, bountiful resources at his fingertips for today’s game. He can do the Boston thing and line up Seguin in his right wing spot. Or he can approach today’s exhibition, with its heavy-on-the-offense accent, as a tiny peek into the Bruins’ future, allowing Seguin to line up in the middle.

Centers typically are slightly behind the attack, a role Seguin enjoys, especially when a defenseman dishes him the puck inside the blue line and he has time and space to wind up as a puck carrier. As a winger, the approach is often slower, more halting, the outside forwards parked along the wall and waiting for the defensemen to dish ahead or the center to generate the attack.

When asked recently what he would prefer these days, center or wing, Seguin stifled a tiny smile and said, “ ‘These Days’! Good song. Rascal Flats.’’

Like his play, dodgy and evasive.

Asked again, and told it was OK to be greedy with his response, he offered, “You want me to answer that? Uh, it’s tricky, because I don’t know who’s going to be reading this.’’

Coaxed a third time, he finally gave it up. Life along the wall has had its merits, but if he had his druthers, he would play the center spot.

“I played it my whole life,’’ he said. “And I do enjoy gathering a lot of speed in my own zone. Whereas at wing, you usually are flat-footed, you kind of stop until you are at center ice and then you try to gain speed.

“But wing’s OK. When you find little tricks about it, it’s not all bad.’’

A wake-up call

Seguin’s second season has not been wrinkle-free. Before picking up 3 points (two goals, one assist) over the two games prior to the All-Star break, he had been blanked in five of six games, his quietest stretch of the season.

He also was scratched from the lineup Dec. 6 in Winnipeg when he slept through the club’s morning breakfast and X-and-O session. He was similarly tardy a couple of times in his rookie season, but Chiarelli and Julien let it slide, chalking it up to teenage ways.

The night off in Winnipeg was intended to shake the adolescent out of him. The tiger was caught with his eyes closed.

“I mean, just another responsibility thing,’’ he said. “You know, it’s irresponsible of me to go in my room and not double- or even triple-check my clock. It’s something you’ve got to do. You’ve got to be on time.

“Obviously, I wasn’t very happy about the decision to sit out. I thought it was kind of a little honest mistake. It was unprofessional, and I understand that . . . even more, looking back now.

“I probably look at my clock four or five times now before I go to sleep.’’

Just a “typical teenager thing,’’ said Chiarelli. Not a big deal.

“He said he had a reason, his clock,’’ noted the GM. “But, hey, it’s your job, and you have to make sure to show up.’’

Seguin has shown up quite well in Year 2. He will play in his first All-Star Game today, in his home province of Ontario. He is leading the league in plus-minus (plus-34).

His weight is up to around 190, some 8-10 pounds heavier than last season, and he is landing shots on net at a pace that could see him deliver 225 for the season, which would be a 75 percent increase over his total of 128 in his rookie campaign.

His next goal or assist will bring him a 100 percent improvement over his “mediocre 22’’ points of last season.

Looks as if the eyes have it. If Seguin’s dad is in the stands today, he’ll have little to do but sit on his hands.

Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at dupont@globe.com.

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