WILMINGTON — It was as if nothing had changed. On Thursday, the Bruins were skating at Ristuccia Arena, their usual practice facility. Patrice Bergeron was in the middle. Tyler Seguin was on his right. Brad Marchand was the left wing.
Just like old times.
“It feels great,’’ Seguin said. “Bergy and I were a little surprised with how quick Marshy still is, even not playing like we were. He’s definitely looking good. It felt like the chemistry was right back where it was.’’
The Bruins will launch their training camp Sunday. Next Saturday, in less than a week, they’ll be squaring off against the New York Rangers at TD Garden. There will be little time for coach Claude Julien to fuss over his lines and pairings. Julien will be seeking instant results, which means Marchand, Bergeron, and Seguin will be together. Their bosses will want top-line performance.
During the NHL lockout, Seguin and Bergeron played in Switzerland. Seguin scored 25 goals and added 15 assists for HC Biel. He was considered one of the National League A’s most dangerous players. Bergeron added 11 goals and 18 assists in 21 games for HC Lugano.
Seguin and Bergeron also dressed for Team Canada in the Spengler Cup, the international tournament played annually in Switzerland.
“It was different,’’ Bergeron said of playing against Seguin. “I’m used to having him flying down my wing. I had to chase him down. It was good. It was fun.’’
In contrast, top-six wings Milan Lucic and Nathan Horton didn’t play during the lockout. Horton hasn’t seen NHL action since Jan. 22, 2012. Although David Krejci played for Pardubice in the Czech Republic during the lockout, the center’s wingmen will need time to find their NHL legs.
Until that happens, first-line expectations will fall upon Seguin & Co. The 20-year-old is ready.
For Seguin’s first two NHL seasons, the Bruins practiced caution. With Julien serving as the final arbiter of Seguin’s duties and ice time, the rookie adjusted slowly from the Ontario Hockey League to the big boys.
Seguin’s skills were not questioned. But he needed time to learn the awareness, courage, and neutral- and defensive-zone responsibility to be more of a weapon than a liability.
Even last year, when Seguin led the team in scoring (29-38—67), Julien had to be firm. On Dec. 6, 2011, Seguin was scratched against Winnipeg for missing a team breakfast and meeting.
Seguin has yet to turn 21. He will do so Jan. 31. But the Bruins need him to be a man right away this season. There is no reason to think Seguin can’t meet those expectations.
Before the Bruins picked Seguin second overall in the 2010 draft, some scouts projected the forward, with time, to become even better than top pick Taylor Hall. That time could already be here.
After just one season, Steven Stamkos exploded into the NHL’s most fearsome offensive force. Last year, the Tampa Bay center scored 60 goals.
Stamkos’s moneymaker is his one-timer, especially on the power play. Seguin’s go-to tool is his whippy wrister. Stamkos may use a different trademark shot, but Seguin has the skills to make a similar leap to stardom.
There are few players in the NHL who can rival Seguin’s package of flat-line speed, quickness, hands, and vision. When he’s at his peak performance, Seguin is an amplified version of ex-Bruin Phil Kessel. Coaches will have to tweak their game plans and deploy the right personnel to neutralize Seguin’s offense.
Even in a 48-game season, Seguin could threaten the 30-goal threshold.
He has at least one teammate’s confidence. At the behest of Bruins fan website stanleycupofchowder.com, Andrew Ference has pledged to plant 50 trees (via donations to the Nature Conservancy’s plantabillion.org) for each goal Seguin scores.
Ference wouldn’t mind if his donations lead to another arboretum.
“If I didn’t already have enough motivation, it’s a lot more to see Fer planting some trees,’’ said Seguin.
Last year, Seguin averaged 16:56 of ice time per game, fifth among Boston forwards after Bergeron, Krejci, Marchand, and Lucic. This year, especially early, Seguin should see his shifts increase. He expects to take on more responsibilities on the power play, where the Bruins have pledged improvement. Seguin most likely will be the left-side half-boards shooter on the No. 1 unit.
“Just improving in all areas,’’ Seguin said of his priorities. “I need to get a lot more responsible in all three zones. It just comes with experience.’’
It will take several practices for Seguin to reacclimate to NHL dimensions. In Switzerland, Seguin could take advantage of the wider rink. He had more time to handle the puck and look for scoring chances. Even during informal practices upon his return, Seguin recognized that neither the time nor the space he enjoyed in Switzerland was available.
“I definitely feel it out there, especially when you get the puck early in the neutral zone,’’ Seguin said. “You look up and the D-men are already there. It’s a lot tighter space.
“But I feel a lot faster than I did, just because I’ve been skating so much over there. It’s such a big ice.’’
This will be the last season of Seguin’s three-year entry-level contract, but he already has secured his next deal. On Sept. 11, 2012, four days before the lockout began, Seguin signed a six-year, $34.5 million extension.
In 2013-14, Seguin will earn $4.5 million, the fourth-highest salary among Bruins forwards. The Bruins were firm on that number.
But by 2018-19, the final year of his deal, Seguin will make $6.5 million. That would make him the team’s highest-paid player. By then, when Seguin is 27, the Bruins project the forward will have earned that distinction.