SAN JOSE - Tyler Seguin is still young, far from a complete player at age 20, his career ceiling still unknown. He was a center by trade and upbringing before he was drafted by the Bruins, but he has been almost exclusively a winger in his two NHL seasons. It could be that he remains out there along the wall for years to come.
“There is so much more to this player,’’ said coach Claude Julien before his squad’s game Thursday night against the Sharks. “And he’s going to be even better down the road.
“Right now, he’s giving us a lot of options. If we need him at center, we know he can handle that. Who knows where he’s going to play? But we know wherever we play him, it will be a position of strength for him.’’
Seguin entered the game still No. 1 in club scoring with 26 goals and 60 points, 4 points ahead of veteran pivot Patrice Bergeron. With two weeks left, he already has put up a better sophomore campaign than former Bruins Phil Kessel (19-18-37) and Joe Thornton (16-25-41).
Kessel, now with the Maple Leafs, is the player the Bruins traded three years ago for the first-round pick Boston used to select Seguin No. 2 overall in the 2010 draft. Thornton, who didn’t reach the 60-point plateau until his third season in the Hub, is now captain of the Sharks, the club that traded for him in November 2005.
A stronger, heavier, more confident performer in his sophomore season, Seguin has spent much of 2011-12 riding right wing on a line with Brad Marchand and Bergeron. He also has spent ample time with the Milan Lucic-David Krejci line, helping to fill the void created when Nathan Horton exited the lineup in January with concussion-related symptoms.
Seguin may one day be a center, but Julien remains pleased with a pivot foursome that has Krejci and Bergeron anchoring the top two lines, followed by Chris Kelly and Greg Campbell working among the bottom six forwards.
Seguin has more than doubled his rookie output of 11 goals and 22 points. Asked after morning practice to review his progress since this time last year, he noted in good humor that he probably wasn’t playing at this time last season, as Julien relied on players with more experience.
“I was probably scratched,’’ he said. “I think I was the fifth-line center.’’
Now he is a fixture among the top six forwards. He is more responsible about the defensive aspect of the game and no longer prone to flinching when pucks get fired his way or the action gets tougher along the boards.
“I see the game differently now,’’ he said. “Guys talk a lot about the game slowing down. I don’t know if it’s like that for me, but I’ve learned some little tricks out there that have helped me.’’
One of those tricks, said Seguin, is knowing when to circle toward the net when he knows Bergeron has secured a puck along the wall or near the goal line.
“Or like last year, if I was going up against a much bigger defenseman, I’d just try to spin off of him,’’ he added. “Now I’ll try to get the puck with my stick - just little things, technique, learning the game, stuff like that.
“My first year, a lot of this was a whole new world for me. It was a big learning curve with a lot of ups and downs.’’
Two seasons and one Stanley Cup later, it’s hardly an old world for Seguin, but it is one with far more ups than downs.
“I would say it’s more confidence - confidence and experience,’’ said Julien. “He came into this league last year as an 18-year-old, coming from a league where the competition ranged from age 16 to 19. So here he is, playing against men all of a sudden, and that’s a big jump.
“You could see his skill right away. We saw that just in his success with the shootout. No doubt, he was a little timid in the corner and along the boards, so he needed that period of adjustment.
“This year, with confidence and experience, that skill level is starting to show more.’’
The No. 1 question facing the Bruins as they entered Contest No. 73: Is their game all the way back? Their back-to-back wins over the Flyers (3-2) and Leafs (8-0) were impressive, but were they enough to say that their game was fully restored after a two-month slide in which they went 12-16-2?
“That was a long stretch there,’’ said Campbell. “We expect to win games and we expect a lot of ourselves. We weren’t getting the job done.’’
The wins over the Flyers and Leafs had the Bruins scoring first and leading for the bulk of the games, two keys that often eluded them over the two months. Prior to those wins, in fact, they allowed the first goal in seven straight games, including four consecutive losses in which they registered 00:00 in lead time.
“That’s the kind of team we are - we’re just better when we have the lead,’’ said Campbell. “We’re just better defensively if we don’t have to open up our game.
“You don’t have to look back too far here. We were blown out by Tampa and Florida and we had a lot of disappointed guys in this room.
“That’s just not the way we play. That’s not our system, not our work ethic, not the way we are built. Our good work habits had slipped dramatically, and when that happens, you’re not playing hard and your not competing enough. So there’s your result.
“All of that was an eye-opener for us. I think after those two games, we looked at ourselves in the mirror and realized that’s not going to be good enough down the stretch.’’
Brian Rolston sizzled in the 8-0 win over the Leafs Monday, his name on half of those goals with 1-3-4 production (leaving him 2-5-7 in his last three games). He looked like the Rolston who wore a younger man’s Black-and-Gold clothes from 2000-04. In 12 games since returning at the trade deadline, he had squeezed off 24 shots. At age 39, he can still get around the rink and he can still shoot . . . Thornton, 32, still paces the Sharks attack (16-52-68 through 73 games). But unless he really gets on a tear, it looks as if he’ll finish below a point-per-game average for a second straight season. He remains a reluctant shooter, with only 138 strikes on net this season. He also had only 22 penalty minutes, roughly half what he has averaged in his years in teal. Thornton on the Bruins: “A complete team, from the goaltender on out.’’
After going 0 for 13 on the power play over six games, the Bruins were 3 for 6 across the three leading up to their visit here. However, their penalty killing slipped to 19 for 26 (73 percent) in the same nine games . . . The Bruins had outshot the opposition in nine of their last 10 games, 314-241, prior to taking on the Sharks. That’s a 30 percent advantage . . . The game here marked the third straight healthy scratch for defenseman Joe Corvo . . . Bergeron began the night without a goal in 12 games, dating back to Feb. 25. He was 0-4-4 over those 12, his weakest output since opening the season 1-3-4 in eight games. He has been hindered of late by some nagging injuries, getting hit by heavy shots in back-to-back games vs. Pittsburgh and Tampa . . . Marchand also was quiet over his last 12 games (2-2-4).