With captains’ practices just two short weeks from commencing, WEEI.com will be looking at the questions facing the defending Stanley Cup  champions in the 2011-12 season.
This time last year, there were plenty of questions on the mind of any Bruins fan. Much like the 2003 Red Sox , the 2009-10 Bruins left a bad taste in fans’ mouths from the heartbreaking fashion in which they were eliminated the season before. As a result, the B’s went out and added a couple of big names (Nathan Horton  and Tyler Seguin ) with the hope that the team that came so close to the conference finals the year before was just a player or two from something special.
So, with all of the anticipation for the 2010-11 campaign came plenty of questions. Would Tim Thomas  bounce back from a subpar season, and would hip surgery make a difference? (That one was answered pretty quickly.) Then there was the question of whether Michael Ryder  and Blake Wheeler  would turn in performances better than their underwhelming 2009-10 campaigns. While Wheeler wasn’t around to completely answer the question, Ryder gave as strong a “kind of” as one could by being a healthy scratch at points of a regular season that matched his 18 goals of a season prior, while also being one of the team’s playoff heroes. People wondered how Horton might go about adjusting to a hockey market, whether Claude Julien  was the right coach for the team and whether Tuukka Rask  could once again be the best goalie (statistically speaking) in the league.
Many of those questions were answered emphatically. Now with a Cup ring thanks largely to his decision to go with a defensive super pair of Zdeno Chara  and Dennis Seidenberg , Julien not only is the right coach for the team but should be considered one of the best coaches in the league. Thomas was the best goaltender this side of any body of water, Ryder and Wheeler have moved on, and Horton played his best when it mattered most. Now that last year’s questions have been answered and captains’ practices are a short two weeks away, it’s worth taking a look at what questions surround the Bruins as they begin their title defense.
First up is a question that will likely be discussed plenty leading into the season: What will Seguin do in his second year?
There are several truths regarding Seguin. He’s the Bruins’ most talented player. He’s essentially their only hope when it comes to those pesky shootouts. He’ll always be compared to Phil Kessel . And, until he is one of the 10 best scorers in the league, people will question the reason why, and such questions will likely be accompanied by some sort of finger-pointing at the coach.
One of the more puzzling things to hear over the course of last season was that the Bruins were botching Seguin’s development. The team’s priority was to win the Stanley Cup, so Julien operated under the same earn-your-ice-time mindset as he always had used. Remember, when the season started Seguin was a third-liner and Brad Marchand  was a fourth-liner. Yes, there is a considerable age difference between the two, but the idea that Julien didn’t want to give the youngster a chance is both baseless and unfair.
Regardless of how he was handled as a rookie, here is how the second overall pick in the 2010 draft fared: He had 11 goals and 11 assists for 22 points and a minus-4 rating in 74 regular-season games. He was a healthy scratch at points of the regular season, and remained one when the postseason began. After jumping in for the concussed Patrice Bergeron  at the start of the conference finals vs. the Lightning (and breaking Milan Lucic ‘s toe with a slap shot in practice), he shined in the first three games of the series, notably racking up a four-point period in the second period of Game 2 and playing what this scribe feels was his most complete game in Game 3. He would end up losing his spot once again in the Stanley Cup finals, but only for a game, as Horton was lost for the playoffs in Game 3. He finished the postseason with three goals and four assists for seven points and a plus-5 in 13 games.
Though he scored big goals and won the Cup as a rookie (his performances in Games 2 and 3 vs. the Lightning are enough for one to make the “They wouldn’t have won the Cup without him” argument if so desired), Seguin was not the player that many hope he’ll be. While he is strong and in tremendous shape, Seguin needs to be more comfortable with the physical game, something he admitted to doing little of in his OHL days.
It seems that the physicality, when it did occur, came with confidence for Seguin. His aforementioned solid Game 3 performance came against the Lightning, and it isn’t far-fetched to draw a connection with the fact that it followed the best statistical game of his young career. In Game 3, he had no problem going into corners or drawing players to him along the boards. In fact, he set up Andrew Ference ‘s goal in that game by drawing two Lightning players to him and dishing it to Chris Kelly . As the games without points went on, Seguin was getting less pucks to the net, playing a less physical game and getting less ice time. This season will be a big test for the 19-year-old, as he doesn’t have to play with an edge to do the things that will make him a more complete player.
Then there’s the question of the players he ends up skating with. One of the biggest arguments in the case for Ryder to stay was the fact that, occasionally, Seguin could work magic with him more so than any other player. Now that Ryder has departed for for Dallas, Seguin could end up on a line of three capable centers with Kelly and Rich Peverley , or he could end up jumping up the second line with Bergeron. Both scenarios have their pros and cons, as Peverley’s speed teamed with that of Seguin’s for a prolonged period could become something explosive. Playing on the second line would temporarily halt Seguin’s days at center, though he play some center on a line with Bergeron last season.
If you want numbers, history may not be the best teacher, as looking back at other recent second overall picks doesn’t tell much. Bobby Ryan, selected second in 2005, spent much of his first two professional seasons in the AHL. Jordan Staal followed up a 42-point (29 G, 12 A) rookie season in 2006-07 with a drop-off in his sophomore campaign, as he ended up scoring just 12 goals and adding 16 assists for 28 points (which remains a career-low). Philadelphia’s James van Riemsdyk needed two years of college hockey to let his skills catch up with his body, and didn’t make it to the NHL  until he was 20 years of age. His stats haven’t been drastically different from one year to the next (he had 35 points as a rookie and added 40 more last season), though his performance in Game 2 of the conference quarterfinals vs. the Bruins may have been the best individual effort by a skater the B’s faced in their playoff run. After being selected second overall in 2008, Kings defenseman Drew Doughty had an outstanding season in his second campaign, totaling 16 goals and 43 assists for 59 points (third amongst defensemen) following a 27-point rookie season. Victor Hedman, the second overall pick in the 2009 draft, has gotten about the same minutes and similar production over his two seasons.
Then there’s the player to whom Seguin has been compared to the most (with perhaps the exception of Steve Yzerman) in Lightning center Steven Stamkos. Something clicked for Stamkos after healthy scratches as a rookie, and by the end of his first year Stamkos was close to the player he is today. As a result, it isn’t surprising that he jumped from 23 goals and 46 points as a rookie to 51 goals and 95 points in his second season. Will that switch be flipped for Seguin during his second season, or has it already been flipped?
Seguin likely will receive similar treatment he did a season ago, and as he gets more comfortable in the league, both his confidence and ice time will increase. As season after he totaled 22 points, the guess here is that he’ll have upwards of 40, with the possibility still existing that this could be the year he becomes a superstar.