BOSTON – Tyler Seguin strolled to his locker where reporters, cameramen and bloggers already were in place.
The spotlight was shining again on the 19-year-old rookie with far more potential than production.
“It feels like it’s draft day all over,” Seguin said with a grin Wednesday, weaving his way through media members eager for his thoughts on his playoff debut.
After being a healthy scratch for the Boston Bruins in all 11 playoff games, the second pick in last year’s draft is eager to play Saturday night against the Tampa Bay Lightning in the opener of the Eastern Conference finals.
His chance came when Patrice Bergeron, one of Boston’s top players in the playoffs, sustained a mild concussion—the third concussion of his career—in the finale of the four-game sweep of the Philadelphia Flyers last Friday. The only estimate the Bruins have given for his return is general manager Peter Chiarelli’s statement Saturday that it’s a “safe assumption” Bergeron, the second-line centre, would miss one or two games.
For now, Seguin, slotted to play wing on the third line, is “very excited” about his opportunity. “I want to go out there and not be afraid to make any mistakes and play confident.”
But it comes with mixed feelings.
“One of our best players is injured, but injuries are a part of the game,” he said. “You can’t replace a guy like Bergy.”
Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman was executive director of Canada’s 2010 Olympic team that included Bergeron.
“He does so many things well,” Yzerman said Wednesday. “He plays in all situations. He’s a good playmaker.”
The Lightning’s injury news is somewhat better.
Yzerman is hopeful left wing Simon Gagne, who resumed skating Monday, will play in the series opener after missing three games with a concussion. But defenceman Pavel Kubina, also sidelined for three games after his head hit the glass on a check, has not worked out since then. The team said he has an upper-body injury.
Seguin, with his speed and scoring, was a star before coming to Boston.
He was the most outstanding player in the Ontario Hockey League last season with 48 goals and 58 assists in 63 games. In two seasons with the Plymouth Whalers, he had 69 goals and 104 assists in 124 regular-season games and 10 goals and 16 assists in 20 post-season games.
But then the level of competition changed.
In the NHL, he had to face bigger, tougher and more experienced players. In 76 games with the Bruins this season, he had just 11 goals and 11 assists. He didn’t suit up in seven playoff games against the Montreal Canadiens and four against the Flyers.
“It’s tough watching,” Seguin said, but “you do learn a ton even just being here for a year, just watching both on and off the ice, the intensity even being around the locker room (and) playoffs. It’s something I knew I would hopefully see coming to a team like Boston.”
In junior hockey, he could rely on his bigger wings to go into the corners for the puck while he focused on putting it in the net. He found out quickly that in the NHL he must do that, too, and play solid defence.
“He’s not the first player that’s had to do that. I’ve seen that numerous times,” Bruins centre Gregory Campbell said. “Guys with his kind of skill, they just instinctively play and they’re good. I’m sure in junior (hockey) and leagues below that he didn’t really have to think much. He was just that much better than a lot of kids.
“This is a different game than juniors.”
It’s filled with older, savvy veterans.
Boston right wing Mark Recchi, now 43, scored his 99th regular-season goal the day before Seguin was born on Jan. 31, 1992.
“It’s just a learning curve,” Seguin said. “With more experience you learn even more.”
Just look at Lightning star Steven Stamkos.
The top pick in the 2008 draft scored only four goals in his first 41 NHL games, then put in 19 in his last 38 as a rookie. He scored 51 goals the next season and 45 this season.
Stamkos and Seguin are both six-foot-one and their playing styles have similarities.
“I’ve heard that since I was drafted, just the comparison, but obviously he’s done a lot more in this league so far than I have,” Seguin said. “I’ve always tried to pattern my game after him so, hopefully, one day that could be a solid comparison.”
Stamkos has four goals and two assists in his first year in the playoffs. He scored the go-ahead goal in a 4-2 win over the Washington Capitals in the opener of the conference semifinals, then got the tying goal in a 4-3 win in Game 3 after the Lightning had fallen behind 3-2.
“The kid’s figured out what the playoffs are all about,” Tampa Bay coach Guy Boucher said.
Indeed, Lightning players who hadn’t been in the post-season before this spring are finding out what they’re like.
“It’s pretty hard to learn about playoff habits unless you’re playing,” goalie Dwayne Roloson said. “To play in them you’ve got to learn quickly and the guys here have done a great job of learning quickly.”
Now it’s Seguin’s turn.
But he can’t replace the all-around game of Bergeron, who is second in the playoffs in winning faceoffs at 64.2 per cent, and tied for sixth with 12 points.
Chris Kelly likely will move up from wing on the third line to replace Bergeron at centre on the second line.
“Faceoffs are a huge part of the game,” Kelly said. “They set up most shifts if you can have puck possession.”
The Bruins aren’t relying on Seguin to win faceoffs. They’d just like him to charge into the corners, get back on defence and do what he does best—score.
“He’s done a good job of staying patient, staying positive,” Campbell said. “I think he’s ready for this challenge.”