|10.02.10 at 8:25 am ET|
BELFAST — Since arriving in Belfast we’ve been able to take closer looks at how lines are gelling as the regular season inches closer and closer. The first line admittedly is looking forward to breaking out of preseason flashes of greatness, while the second line seems to be both stable and intriguing.
It’s hard to argue that any Bruins line could be more intriguing than the third. The line, centered by second overall pick Tyler Seguin, sees a potential franchise player in between two scorers coming off down years in Michael Ryder and Blake Wheeler. For a time, Claude Julien and the Bruins had considered playing Wheeler at center on the line, but ultimately decided that they wanted to take advantage of playing Seguin at his natural position for as long as Marc Savard is out with post-concussion syndrome symptoms.
So, one week before his real NHL debut, what have we seen from Seguin? Like top picks in years past, a lot of proof that he’s an elite talent and some proof that he’s still getting familiar with the NHL surroundings. As for the talent, he can show it off if he wants to, as he did on a goal in practice Thursday that fused fancy stick-handling with deke that made him look more like Brandon Tate on his kickoff return against the Bengals. It’s at spots like those where his natural talent explains how he scored 48 goals a season ago.
Then there are the reminders that he’s still 18 and that he’s adjusting to a new league, new linemates, new everything. Between the rookie games and the Bruins’ preseason games, he’s had a few slip-ups in his own end, something he admittedly feels is the biggest adjustment.
“I think it’s more defensively,” Seguin said of any challenges he’s faced to this point. “‘¦ Obviously there have been little things that you have to adapt to, and I’ve just been doing my best. Usually I am a pretty quick learner, and that’s just what I’ve been trying to do. I just want to stay as consistent as I can with the little things I’m learning.”
Wheeler may have the best seat in the house for watching Seguin’s progress, something he already feels has come a long way. Technically, Wheeler was competing with Seguin for that third center spot, but given both of the players’ willingness to play either position (they both have plenty of experience at both center and on the wing), it really wasn’t a competition at all. In fact, Wheeler sees some of his own situation of a couple years ago when skating with Seguin. Once a top-five pick himself (Coyotes, 2004), Wheeler knows what it’s like to try to make an impression while getting a feel for a new league.
“Tyler’s new on the team, so just getting him adjusted to the physical demands of playing at this level and playing within our system. Once he gets down where to play on the ice, it’s going to make things a lot easier for him, it’s going to slow down the game for him, and you’re going to see his natural abilities come out,” Wheeler said. “He’s a great young player. Like anything else — I remember my first year — it takes a little bit of time to know where to be on the ice at the right times. Once he’s there, he’s just going to take off.”
A year after his senior campaign at the University of Minnesota, Wheeler signed with the Bruins and strung together a 21-goal season out of the gate. After taking a step backwards in his second season with 18 tallies, he’s on a new line with a center he has a great deal of faith in. Even if Seguin makes mistakes in the early going, Wheeler feels the more opportunities the reigning OHL MVP gets to learn from, the closer his comfort will be to matching his skill set.
“It’s all repetition, you know? He just needs to be kind of thrown into the fire like he is,” Wheeler said. “Get him in there and just let him kind of learn by trial and error. He’s going to see that when he’s in the right spots in our system, when he’s keeping things simple, it makes the game a lot easier out there. If you’re trying to do too much at this level, you’re going to be exposed, and I think he’s probably getting a little taste of that right now.”
Julien feels the same way, but places a great deal of stress on the players noticing each speed bump as they come across them. Regardless of star status or any other variable, if the player can diagnose the differences from league to league, Julien feels they’re on the right track.
“I think it’s not just Tyler, but anybody who would come in here and be in their first pro camp or first time with us ‘¦ a first-year player comes in and learns that the pro game is a little different than the junior game, or even the college game for that matter,” Julien said. “At this level here, guys are most of the time in good position to either be outlets, and at the same time, they realize that those little details, they’ll be the first ones to tell you that those things seem to mean a lot in our game.”
The expectations are high on Seguin, but on a team in which each line has a newcomer to the squad, (Nathan Horton, Jordan Caron, Seguin, and Gregory Campbell on lines one through four, respectively) he may not be the only one dealing with an adjustment. His learning process may have huge payoff for the Bruins, and both the team and the city of Boston hope to reap the benefits.
|10.01.10 at 8:28 pm ET|
BELFAST — I ventured into the Belfast Giants‘ locker room Friday to chat with Brett Hemingway, a forward for the Giants. I had gone to college with Hemingway but had never met him, so having the city of Belfast described in terms relative to Durham, N.H. was something this scribe could get on board with. The conversation revolved mainly around hockey and Jose Bautista (Hemingway is a Blue Jays fan), but one thing I had to bring up was what the guy next to him was drinking.
I had noticed this weird Sunny Delight-looking stuff that some of the Bruins were drinking when they were on the ice and later saw it in the team’s refrigerator next to Zdeno Chara‘s locker. Hemingway said it’s a drink called Lucozade, which is “like Gatorade here.” He did point out that though there is Powerade, Vitamin Water, and other American beverages in Northern Ireland, he had never spotted Lucozade. Not sure it’s worth trying. Still kind of looks like weird Sunny Delight.
|10.01.10 at 7:02 pm ET|
BELFAST — Zdeno Chara expressed on Friday his desire to stay with the Bruins beyond this season, the final one of his contract. Though Chara has said throughout the process that he would like to have a contract extension wrapped up before the regular season begins, a source familiar with the negotiations has told WEEI.com that though they are “shooting for” finishing a deal before the Oct. 9 opener against the Coyotes in Prague, they are “not sure it is possible.”
Chara is planning on playing until he is 45, something he feels he can do based on his tireless commitment to his fitness. It is unlikely that this deal will be his last, given the scrutiny placed by the league on deals that go past a player’s 40th birthday and that such a pact would be an 11-year deal. Chara understands that it might take more than one contract to get him through the rest of his career, but is hopeful that any progress made since an offseason “pause” in negotiations can eventually lead to another pact.
Chara is entering the fifth year of a five-year, $37.5 million deal signed in 2006 after beginning his career with the Islanders and Senators. He has served as captain for his entire Bruins career. In 847 career games in the NHL, the Slovakian defenseman has scored 111 goals and picked up 252 assists 363 points.
|10.01.10 at 5:08 pm ET|
BELFAST — Yield =
|10.01.10 at 11:46 am ET|
BELFAST — …Because if they get clever on Saturday night, they may get a reminder that they’re squaring off with the 2009 Knock-Out Cup champions. So yeah, there’s that.
|10.01.10 at 11:30 am ET|
BELFAST — The offensive lines, for all intents and purposes, seem to be just about set for when the Bruins begin the season next weekend against the Coyotes. Assuming nothing changes, the top line will be David Krejci between Milan Lucic and Nathan Horton, the second will feature Patrice Bergeron in the middle of Mark Recchi and Jordan Caron, Tyler Seguin will likely be in the middle of Michael Ryder and Blake Wheeler on the third line, and Gregory Campbell will center Daniel Paille and Shawn Thornton, with Brian McGrattan likely the 13th forward.
Time is running out for these lines to hit their stride and for players to get comfortable with one another. In Seguin’s case, he’s still picking up the little things needed to round out his game in his own end, plus there’s the adjustment to a couple of new linemates in a new league.
Considering that each of the team’s four lines has a newcomer on it, the line that has impressed most thus far in training camp has been that top line of Krejci, Lucic, and Horton. The former Panther in Horton has picked up a pair of goals so far in the preseason, and Krejci seems ready to shine as a No. 1 center. Factor in Lucic’s aspirations to score at least 20 goals this season without losing his physical mentality, and the makings seem to be there for something special. Even with the promise shown, nobody is satisfied yet.
“I don’t think we click together very well yet,” Krejci said Friday. “I think we’ve had some good shifts, some good chemistry on some shifts, but I don’t think we’ve brought it every shift. I believe that there is something and we’re going to try to find it in each shift when we go out there.”
Horton agreed. Though Seguin and Caron might not have gigantic expectations because of their age, Horton, 25, is expected to put up career numbers in his first season in Boston.
“I think we’re getting better,” Horton said. “Obviously, we need to get better, but we’re just trying to work on things, getting used to each other’s games. It will come, I think. We’ve got two more games to get ready for the regular season.”
Asked if players can get by on talent alone in the preseason before having to show more cohesion with linemates when it counts, Krecji didn’t feel the difference between an exhibition and a regular season game was substantial enough.
“It’s not really much different than the [regular season] games,” Krejci said. “Everybody works so hard, does the same things, but you’ve got to know how to use experience and buy some time. That’s what happened when Horton scored that goal against Florida at home, so little things like that could help, and hopefully that’s going to help us tomorrow and the first exhibition game in Czech. Then, hopefully we can carry it into regular season games.”
|10.01.10 at 10:04 am ET|
BELFAST — Sprints from side to side along the blue lines and center ice at the Odyssey Arena appears to be a bit more of a tiring affair than usual for the Bruins, and it’s not because of jet lag. Because the Bruins are playing in Europe, they will have to get used to European ice, which is wider and thus makes for a more offensive game.
“You have to really adjust your defensive game,” captain Zdeno Chara said Friday. “You know that the opponent has way more ice to take. You can’t be running out of your position. You’ve got to play more as far as dots on the ice. You can’t get too carries away running to the boards.
“There’s probably an extra 10 feet on each side, so there’s going to be way more room for forwards. As a defenseman, you still have to play that structure and tight defensively.”
Though the defensemen have to be much more careful to prevent a high-scoring game, David Krejci and the forwards have enjoyed how spacious playing in the offensive zone is.
“There’s so much room,” Krejci said. “We did some drills today in the corners. Back in Boston, it’s so tight, you don’t have much room. Here, you’ve got so much room and a little more time, too. It’s going to take a little more time to get used to, so you don’t have to move [the puck] too quick. You can hold it a little bit longer — not too long — but a little longer and make some smarter plays.”
As for getting used to new ice, a new time zone, and not falling apart in the process, Nathan Horton doesn’t think the team has lost any steam since arriving at around 10:30 a.m. local time (5:30 a.m. EST).
“I think everyone felt better today,” Horton, who slept for two hours on the plane but joked that “you can’t doze off” when films such as The A-Team and the Jaden Smith remake of The Karate Kid were being shown. “I think it was a better practice overall, and I think we’re getting better every day.”