Tyler Seguin Putting Up Numbers With Dallas, But Forward’s All-Around Game Still Work in Progress

Zack Smith Jamie Benn“I don’t know if the leopard ever changes his spots. But he’s gonna have to or else we’re gonna be sitting here next year doing the same thing.” — Bruins director of player personnel Scott Bradley on Tyler Seguin

Tyler Seguin will make his return to TD Garden on Tuesday night. When he does, the Dallas Stars forward will be playing in his first game in the Boston barn since June, when, as a member of the Bruins, he watched the Chicago Blackhawks win the Stanley Cup Final. It was the end of what became an incredibly frustrating postseason for Seguin. He scored just one goal in 22 games. He was far too often just a passenger, gliding around the ice, unwilling or uninterested in going to the dirty areas and do the little things to win hockey games.

The things that you don’t necessarily have to do when you’re putting the puck in the net. Seguin was doing neither.

All the while, there were whispers about his questionable off-ice behavior. Those whispers started to get louder as the team moved toward shipping the young forward out of town. Finally, Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli decided that it wasn’t going to work. The Bruins dealt Seguin on July 4 in a move that not only cleared up salary cap space for the B’s but also sent a loud message about what the club thought of Seguin. Things must have been pretty bad for the Bruins to give up on the No. 2 pick from just three years earlier after giving him a contract extension.

Those whispers about the off-ice issues became loud noises. On a team of consummate professionals and veterans, Seguin stuck out like a sore thumb as the resident party boy, with the fairness of that distinction and label still very much in question.

Even now, Seguin insists that his age — he made his NHL debut at 18 — worked against him, especially on a veteran-laden Stanley Cup contender that he joined upon being drafted. So it’s not entirely surprising to see Seguin succeeding in Dallas. He’s in a place now where winning every night isn’t necessarily the most important thing in the world. Whereas the Bruins are expected to compete for the Cup every year for the next few years, the Stars aren’t anyone’s pick to win a Cup in the near future. That, in theory, should allow Seguin to improve his game, but he’s gotta be willing to accept that responsibility.

We’ve already seen signs of growing pains for Seguin in Dallas. The Stars acquired Seguin knowing they were going to use him at center, the position he was drafted at. They invested in the hope that he’ll eventually grow into a No. 1 center. That’s still a work in progress, which likely comes as no surprise to the Bruins, who used him primarily as a winger. When Patrice Bergeron missed time last year with an injury, Seguin struggled after taking Bergeron’s spot at center.

While the offensive production is there this year in Dallas, where Seguin has centered the club’s top line, there are still aspects of his game that need plenty of work. Seguin still doesn’t come close to excelling in all three zones, and he’s still struggling to put it all together as a centerman. The most prevalent example in that has been his struggle with faceoffs. Seguin was called out by Lindy Ruff following Sunday’s shootout win over the Ottawa Senators, a game that Seguin went 1-for-14 in the faceoff circle. It got so bad that Ruff had to reshuffle his lines, putting Jamie Benn back on Seguin’s line to help in the dot.

That’s likely not a surprise for Ruff and the rest of his coaching staff. Ruff talked about tempering expectations with Seguin back in September.

“I think you have to have a little bit of patience,” Ruff said, according to the team’s website. “He is moving back to a position that he hasn’t played. He’s going to have to handle some big men down low. Your responsibilities are a lot different from playing the wing to the guy that has to come back and try to out-battle some of the big men. The good part is he should have the puck a little bit more. The tougher part is his reads have to be good, you get a lot of defensive situations. I think that is the part that will take him a little bit of time.”

Seguin is going to lose some of that rope if he doesn’t heed the advice of his coach moving forward. Ruff’s critique — which called on Seguin to have “stronger” “compete” and “get mad” — probably sound very familiar to those in the Boston front office. With the creation of Behind the B, we know that to be fact.

It’s all going to come back to patience. The Bruins finally ran out of it, and they decided that it was worth it to give up on a No. 2 overall pick who has all of the offensive talent. As they struggle to score goals early in the season, it’s worth noting that they could certainly use an offensive talent like Seguin in the lineup, no matter the issues he may have in his own end.

Maybe it just was never going to work out between Seguin and the Bruins, at least the way the team is currently constituted with this coach and this system.  Seguin wasn’t able to change his stripes, and the Bruins weren’t willing to change theirs.

Maybe it wasn’t going to work with the way Seguin acted on and off the ice, either. Only time will tell, though, as Tuesday will just be another chapter in what’s sure to be one really interesting story.

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