February 18, 2012

Already in rare air, maturing Seguin has sights set high

By Jesse Connolly

“Crosby didn’t do it, right?” Jack Edwards asks. “Gretzky didn’t do it, and Messier certainly didn’t do that. I don’t think Gordie Howe did it. Bobby Orr certainly didn’t do it. Holy crap! How many guys have done that?” 

As Edwards rattles off his list of living legends, the magnitude of Tyler Seguin’s accomplishments in his first year and a half as a Bruin take on mesmerizing clarity. In capturing the Stanley Cup and playing in an NHL All-Star Game prior to celebrating his 20th birthday, Seguin has joined a microscopically small list of players to pull off both feats as a teenager. Furthermore, he’s done something that nearly all of the game’s greatest players never did.

Since 1969 — when the NHL changed the format of the All-Star Game, no longer including the defending champions as one of the participating squads — Seguin is only the second player to win the Cup and earn an All-Star nod before turning 20. Jaromir Jagr won the Stanley Cup as a rookie with the Penguins in 1991 and played in the All-Star Game the following year — four weeks before his 20th birthday.

As Edwards points out, it takes a rare set of circumstances for such an opportunity to present itself.

“You’d have to have the good fortune to be in Seguin’s situation, but so few Cup winners have a top-two pick where you can get a guy who is NHL ready in those two years when he’s 18 or 19,” said Edwards, the Bruins play-by-play announcer for NESN since 2005.

“Right there, that eliminates 90 percent or probably more of Stanley Cup winners in the draft era. And then, you’ve got to have a player that lives up to a significant part of that potential and catches the eye of enough people in power positions that they put him on the team.”

While Seguin may have lucked out in landing on a Cup-contending club, he certainly deserves proper credit for quickly reaching that potential, as evidenced by his All-Star nod last month — two days before turning 20 on Jan. 31. According to teammate Andrew Ference, Seguin has done a ton of growing up in a short amount of time.

“It’s actually pretty remarkable how big of a difference there is from that day until now,” Ference said of Seguin’s transformation from his first day at camp to today. “He’s quite a different person than he was just a year ago, so that’s pretty neat. I think the first couple years of your pro career really shape and define who you are. That can be negative or positive. If you’re on a team that has no control or no guidance, then you’re kind of like that for the rest of your career. I feel like it’s tough to change. For him, he came into a good situation to become a professional.” 

From a green rookie fighting for playing time to the team leader in goals, points and a slew of other offensive categories in his second season, Seguin has displayed a tremendous amount of dedication to bettering his game and a wealth of poise in handling the pressure that’s surrounded him since before he was legally even allowed to drive.

“That whole Taylor-Tyler thing lasted like 14 months,” Edwards said of the massive hype involving Taylor Hall and Seguin, two players who will be forever linked after going 1-2 in the 2010 NHL Draft. “They were actually talking about them before the previous entry draft. How sick is that?

“I think having had a really level-headed family around him, having had the Canadian experience of being a really big fish in a relatively small pond that early in life and having the personality he has prepared him pretty well. I’m pretty sure I would’ve blown myself up at this point.”

For the most part, Seguin has averted such self-destructive disasters, but that doesn’t mean the Brampton, Ontario, native hasn’t hit his share of bumps along the way.

With the Bruins in Winnipeg to take on the Jets on Dec. 6, many were stunned to learn that No. 19 wasn’t in the lineup. Seguin had been made a healthy scratch by the club for missing a team breakfast that morning. General manager Peter Chiarelli noted it wasn’t the first time the young forward had made such an error in judgment.

“I don’t know. It’s just one of those things,” Ference said when asked if the incident was something Seguin could learn from. “Obviously, it’s probably a little bit embarrassing to have to miss a game for something like that, but it’s not like anyone was ragging on him. It is what it is and you’re done with it. You pay a big enough price by missing a game.”

When the Bruins arrived back in Boston, inquiring minds wanted to know all the nitty-gritty details. For those who have grown to know Seguin during his tenure as a pro, they knew full well what to expect when it was time for him to talk.

While the likes of Sidney Crosby, Mark Messier and Wayne Gretzky might not have had a Stanley Cup and an All-Star Game appearance under their belts by the age of 20, they were simply naturals in front of the camera from the moment they stepped into the spotlight. 

Seguin, to his credit, has gotten considerably better at that oft-overlooked facet of being a professional athlete and says it’s become second nature now, but even he will admit it’s not exactly his forte.

“I get told that my tone goes a little down and I talk like ‘this,’” Seguin said, sarcastically mocking himself by lowering his voice and slowing his tempo. “I say a lot of ‘uhhs’ and ‘ums’ all the time.”

At the end of the day, not everyone can be Mr. Hockey like Gordie Howe. Not everyone can be the great ambassador for the game in the way the great orator Crosby is.

“He’s still pretty reserved. I don’t know if he is intentionally guarding himself, but from what we see of him outside the team, I think his personality is pretty guarded,” Edwards said. “Personality usually emerges pretty early. You knew Brad Marchand was going to be a pretty live wire the second he stepped into the Bruins’ locker room, and he was pretty young as a rookie also.

“I don’t know if personalities change. I think Tyler’s always going to be closer to a personality like Jean Ratelle than he is to Brad Marchand, if I were to compare two guys in Bruins history. He’ll certainly meet his obligations, but he’s not going to spend a lot of extra intellectual fuel coming up with a wicked retort. That’s how he sees his job.”

But if Seguin is meeting all of his requirements when it comes to the press, isn’t that enough? Is being a media darling a requisite part of achieving superstar status?

“If you can have a good relationship with the media, understand that part of the job and fulfill the obligation on a consistent basis, things will tend to smile in your direction,” Edwards said. “It’s smart of him to recognize that. We’ve seen a lot of guys recognize that through many generations. We’re such a media-driven environment.

“I think you’ve got to be yourself,” Edwards added. “If you start having multiple personalities, you’re asking for trouble.”

In Seguin’s case, all he really wants to be is himself: a fun-loving, young adult who can act goofy with his teammates, stay humble and handle everything that being a second-year pro in the National Hockey League entails.

“I like to joke around with the guys and make sure everyone knows I’m still young and rub it in their face, and I make dumb little mistakes sometimes,” Seguin said when asked if he ever gets wrapped up in everything and loses sight of how young he is. “But I want to be mature for my age and I want to be mature enough to handle this lifestyle and this professional career.”

As far as Edwards is concerned, given his team-first attitude, superb work ethic and scintillating skills, Seguin is more than amply equipped to thrive at his job.

The 54-year-old announcer believes Seguin’s potential is nearly limitless, but is it high enough that he could one day rank among the best players to ever lace ’em up for the Black and Gold?

“That’s a pretty high mountain to climb, to be one of the Bruins’ all-time greats,” Edwards said. “Some of the greatest heroes in hockey have worn that Spoked-B, but I’ll tell you this: In his second year, he’s the kind of player that when he gets the puck, he brings all 17,565 out of their seats. There hasn’t been a player like that in a Bruins uniform since (Cam) Neely was scaring defenseman down the wing.

“I don’t know what the future holds for Tyler Seguin, but I can tell you that Bruins fans are really smart, really study the game and really love the game, and when they react physically to a player — and you can see the crowd actually rise when Seguin gets the puck — you know what the potential is. Let’s just say this: He’s got a pretty good ice axe in his hand if he wants to climb that mountain.”

If his résumé to date is any indication, we just might look up at that mountain one day and see Seguin standing on top.

This article originally appeared in the February 2012 issue of New England Hockey Journal.

Jesse Connolly is the Bruins beat writer for New England Hockey Journal. Follow him on Twitter at @JesseNEHJ. He can be reached at jconnolly@hockeyjournal.com