Wheeler sees Seguin conquering rookie speedbumps early
|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.