BOSTON -- Tyler Seguin returned to the TD Garden ice for the first time since Game 6 of last year’s Stanley Cup finals Monday, the day before he faces his former Boston Bruins teammates. He wore a Dallas Stars practice jersey and centered a line between Jamie Benn and Valeri Nichushkin.
On the spectrum of his career, Seguin is somewhere between the trajectory of his linemates. Benn, at just 24, is the Stars’ captain. Nichushkin is an 18-year-old phenom and, like Seguin, a top-10 pick -- the 10th overall selection in the 2013 draft.
“When I saw him [Nichushkin] in the preseason, when I first got to Dallas, I was blown away with him,” Seguin said after Monday’s practice session. “I thought he was going be a next [Evgeni] Malkin. He’s got a good skill set.”
While the Malkin comparison doesn’t exactly fit, everything else Seguin used to describe his rookie teammate were modifiers that were tossed around in describing Seguin around the time the Bruins made him the No. 2 overall selection in 2010.
The billing still fits for Seguin, but he never became in Boston what Benn has developed into for the Stars. And so, for the first time since the Bruins and Stars pulled off their own Fourth of July fireworks display with a seven-player deal that sent Seguin to Dallas, he’s returning as an opposing player.
“It’s a little weird pulling into the city,” Seguin said, encircled by a deep pool of reporters. “It’s definitely a little awkward, I guess you could say.”
So, too, are breakups of any kind.
About midway through Seguin’s media engagement in the Garden’s bowels, Bruins coach Claude Julien strode through the concourse, accompanied by assistant Doug Houda while leaving ice level. Julien didn’t break stride and cast his eyesight at the floor tile, avoiding the mongering scrum to his left.
Once the relationship’s over, you never look back.
“Give me something else?” Julien responded -- only half-jokingly -- when asked if he was looking forward to coaching against Seguin to open his post-practice news conference Monday morning.
He added, “It’s not my job to keep in contact with a player that’s no longer with us.”
Julien’s follow-up elaboration on his view of Seguin’s three seasons in Boston was something short of glowing.
“He’s a good player,” Julien said. “I didn’t mind him here at all as a player.”
In the early going with Dallas, Seguin has shown the flashes of offensive prowess he did in his sophomore season with the Bruins, when he fell one goal shy of 30. He’s been a point-per-game player (6-9—15 totals through 14 games), leading the team in scoring.
“I’m trying to find an all-around, complete game,” Seguin said, “and I think with my type of game, it does come with points. I’m competing with my feet and creating offensive chances.”
The evolution has come with a move from the wing to center. It has come with growing pains, evidenced by Seguin’s putrid performance in the faceoff circle against Ottawa on Sunday. In the Stars’ 4-3 shootout win, Seguin won just one of 14 draws.
“He’s had good nights and he’s had some tough ones,” Stars coach Lindy Ruff said of Seguin’s time at center. “There’s some nights, like last night, where I’d like to see him cheat more -- maybe get lower, maybe battling and get kicked out [of the circle]. He’s had some tough nights, but he’s had some good ones. It’s the tough ones he has to battle through.”
Ruff also indicated, in no uncertain terms, the plan is to keep Seguin at center.
“He’s been at center ice and he’s going to stay at center ice,” Ruff said. “It might be a little bit of a growing process, but that’s where we want to play him.”
Seguin also addressed the heart of the speculation about what truly led to his exit from Boston. From social media gaffes to other alleged off-ice predilections, Seguin danced around the issues he “faced up to” in his B’s career.
“I think I was just growing into a pro,” he said. “I was the youngest guy here for a while before Dougie [Hamilton] came in. But any decisions I made never really affected my job.”
To that point is what more likely influenced the Bruins’ decision to push the launch button. Now famously delivered during the first installment of the “Behind the B” series on NESN, Scott Bradley, Bruins director of player personnel, uttered the indictment:
“He's a star player -- there's no doubt. But does he fit with our culture?”
Though a small sample size, it appears as though Seguin has assimilated to Dallas’ culture in the room, a place where he might yet seize a leadership role, as his linemate, Benn, has early in his career.
It’s all there in Seguin’s game. Sometimes it just comes down to the details, just as Ruff commented on Seguin’s need to get down and dirty in the faceoff circle.
“Sometimes you’re going to have to get low, you’re going to have to get real hard.”