Tyler Seguin Mirrors Phil Kessel’s Offensive Growth Post-Trade, But Real Test Comes in Performing Against Bruins

tyler-seguinCall it buyer’s remorse, but Tyler Seguin has some heads turning in Boston.

The 21-year-old winger — the jury’s still out on him as a center — is off to a hot start as a new member of the Dallas Stars. He has six goals and nine assists, good for 15 points through 14 games this season. Seguin is given the ice time of a top-six forward in Dallas, sometimes centering Valeri Nichushkin and hidden superstar Jamie Benn on the top line. 

Fourteen games is too small a sample size to say that Seguin has matured, turned the corner, learned to play or any other platitude that gets thrown around as the cause of young players’ struggles, but Peter Chiarelli pulled the trigger on the blockbuster July 4 deal that sent Seguin and Rich Peverley to Dallas not because the Bruins had given up on the young winger, but because his development wasn’t happening fast enough.

The Bruins are a team that needs to win now. The core of the team — Patrice BergeronMilan LucicDavid Krecji, etc. — are all in the prime of their careers, and Zdeno Chara, the cornerstone of the blueline, showed definite signs of aging in the 2013 playoff run. With Seguin so young and so far behind the rest of his teammates in development, it made more sense for the Bruins to deal a player who could become a superstar in several years for several players who can impact the game now.

So off Seguin went and out came the let’s-not-call-it-character-assassination news of his habitual partying, his lack of commitment — especially in the playoffs — and his inappropriateness as a player in the Bruins system. When reports first came out of his partying, Seguin’s mother went to Toronto newspapers to defend her son. After the trade, Seguin was, unjustly or not. painted as an immature kid not worthy of his talent.

Well, like most things that play hockey in Texas, Seguin dropped off the radar for a while. But now he’s back in Boston and playing at a 1.07-point-per-game pace. He’s only been held scoreless four times this season. Dallas is tied for last in its division, but Seguin is playing like a legitimate offensive threat with five points and two goals in his last three games.

It would seem as if leaving Boston turned him into the scorer the Bruins always hoped he could be.

If this “sniper comes to Boston, sniper gets traded, sniper scores more than ever before” seems familiar, it’s because the Bruins’ favorite punching bag, Phil Kessel, followed the same trajectory. After being traded to Toronto following the 2008-09 season, Kessel started off his tenure in Canada with 14 points in 14 games. Phil was the glory boy of the Great North. Writers around the league blasted off headlines like, “Did the Bruins give up on Kessel too soon?”

Kessel and his new teammates came to Boston for their 15th game of the 2009 season. Kessel was coming off a two-goal game and facing a team whom he didn’t leave on the best of terms. The hottest offensive talent of the NHL had motive and opportunity.

Kessel finished the game with no points, a minus-3, registered two shots on net and skated for only 16:28. The Bruins won 7-2.

It happened again when the teams met five days later. The Bruins won 5-2 with Kessel barely on the scoresheet — no points, two shots and a respectable 18:49 time on ice.

Since being traded to Toronto, Kessel has scored 128 goals and 167 assists, but in 22 games against Boston, he has recorded just three goals and six assists. Home or away, Kessel routinely crumbled against the Bruins’ defensive system.

It wasn’t until the 2013 playoffs when Kessel (4-2-6) scored several big-time goals to push the Bruins to a Game 7 and then some that one of the top scorers in the league could shrug off the weight of not performing against his old team. It seems silly to invalidate multiple 30-goal seasons based on Kessel’s performance against one team, but it matters — the Bruins have been the top dog in the division for years, and if Toronto’s best player can’t perform against them, everything else is white noise.

While Seguin’s return to Boston on Tuesday might not have the same significance, it will most likely be a defining moment in his young career. Seguin and Kessel are comparable, though not identical, players, and their preferred style of play — speedy, high-slot shots, passes like darts — runs counter to the Bruins’ system. he Kessel v. Boston battle is ongoing but tilted decidedly in the Bruins’ favor.

Granted, Tuesday’s game will be decided by a lot more than Tyler Seguin and Zdeno Chara racing for a puck in the corner boards, but it’ll be a good indication of just how or if Seguin’s game has changed. Remember, he lit up the Swiss league during the lockout with 40 points in 29 games but returned to the NHL for a disappointing final season as a Bruin.

Scoring has come easy for Seguin as a Dallas Star just as it did for Kessel post-trade. It means something different, though, to pot a goal and an assist against teams like Phoenix and Buffalo than doing the same against your old team, in your old barn, against your old linemates.

Kessel knows all too well what his name sounds like reverberating around the Garden rafters. If Tyler Seguin is still the same old player the Bruins traded away in the offseason, he might get to hear his own name.

Photo via Twitter/@monicato_

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