WILMINGTON, Mass. -- After practice on Tuesday, Tyler Seguin seemed like a seasoned veteran, joking about his playoff beard and talking about the Bruins' upcoming series with the Washington Capitals. In just his second season in the NHL, Seguin is looking for his second Stanley Cup championship.
After leading the team in points (67) and goals (29) this season, Seguin enters the playoffs as a key component in the Bruins' game plan.
It is a vastly different position than Seguin was in at this time a year ago, when he didn't know if he'd even crack the Bruins' lineup during the playoffs. Seguin didn't play in the team's first 11 playoffs games, sitting out all seven against the Canadiens and all four against the Flyers. Seguin finally cracked the lineup in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference championships against the Lightning because Patrice Bergeron was out of the lineup with a concussion.
This week, a relaxed yet excited Seguin was asked if he could recall what he was feeling last year. He just shook his head and smiled.
"Just if I was going to be playing and how I was going to contribute if I wasn't going to be on the ice," Seguin recalled Tuesday. "It's a lot different this year and I definitely like it better when I can contribute on the ice for sure. It's night and day. I didn't know what to expect or how I'd be. I didn't know how the guys would be around the rink or on the ice. It was good to get around the rink and see the focus."
In Seguin's rookie season, Bruins coach Claude Julien and his staff tried to ease the No. 2 overall pick into the mental and physical rigors of being an NHL player. Seguin had an up-and-down season, finishing with just 22 points in 74 games and was on the outside looking in as the playoffs began. It was a difficult time for Seguin, and Bergeron can remember trying to help his teammate keep his head up and stay even-keeled during the playoffs. Although he didn't have the expectations that Seguin arrived with, Bergeron came into the NHL as an 18-year-old rookie, so he could relate to Seguin and did his best to help.
"We [Bergeron and other teammates] were all trying to tell him: 'You gotta learn the ropes and it's not easy sometimes but that's the evolution of becoming a pro,' and I think he was frustrated for sure but he soaked it up and learned from it," said Bergeron, who has teamed with Seguin and Brad Marchand to form the Bruins' most consistent line this season. "I think he understood that and when he was called upon he did the job. Look at what he did against Tampa ... I thought he played well. Maybe it wasn't showing on the score sheet but he was trying hard out there."
What Seguin did against Tampa Bay in the Eastern Conference finals was one of the more memorable highlights of the Bruins' Cup run. With Bergeron out with a concussion to start the series, Julien turned to Seguin and the rookie delivered. After notching a goal and an assist in a 5-2 loss in Game 1, Seguin showed his skill and poise in Game 2, leading the Bruins to a 6-5 win with two goals and an assist. Seguin would get just one assist in his next 11 games, but winning the Stanley Cup overshadowed any frustration Seguin might have had, and Bergeron believes the experience helped him blossom this season.
"Winning the Stanley Cup in your rookie season is something you can't teach so that was a huge experience for him," Bergeron said. "That's something that is going to help him a lot now in the playoffs the second time around. I think he's been handling himself well all season. He's still young and still learning but he's handled the ups and downs well and that was part of it. He knows what he must do to succeed and help the team and I think he's done that."
Julien was asked Tuesday about the progression of his budding star. He credited the coaching staff, Seguin's teammates and the willingness of Seguin to ask for advice and his desire to improve.
"We've done a good job with him as far as the whole coaching staff, the players, to help him through those things," Julien said. "And he likes his teammates, he likes our coaching staff, he has a lot of trust in all of us where he's not afraid to come up and say, 'Listen, this is what's happening here.' Or whenever we suggest something, it's nice to see a guy with that much talent and skill be so open to suggestions and help, as well."
On Tuesday, Seguin acknowledged that the better he has played this season, the more teams have focused on him. But as teams have done their best to limit Seguin's time and space on the ice, he has done his best to take that advice from his coaches and teammates and adapt.
"Sometimes I wonder in my head why the spots aren't there anymore like they were when we faced these teams last year? But that's what comes with growing as a player," Seguin said.
But as he pointed out, he doesn't let the added pressure from opponents frustrate him because the Bruins are so deep up front. If he can't score, someone else will and that's why the Bruins were tied for second in the NHL in goals scored this season.
"If you look at our team there wasn't really any gap between us," Seguin said about the balanced scoring. "We had six 20-goal scorers so there wasn't much difference between us and that's what makes our team dangerous."
The Bruins' balance and Seguin's increased confidence are two reasons Julien isn't worried about his second-year player getting frustrated with the extra attention he'll likely get in the playoffs.
"I think he knows everybody on his team has his back, and all he has to do is go out there and compete and be ready to face that kind of challenge," Julien said. "If we want him to be a better player, he has to be able to face those kinds of challenges and face them with a positive result. He has to be able to work his way through and we expect him to be able to do that."
Being ready to face such challenges is what Seguin was hoping for as the 2011 Stanley Cup playoffs approached. Now that a new playoff season is here, he is embracing the challenge. Maybe his coming-out party came a year later than he wanted, but he's just fine entering his second playoffs as a Stanley Cup champion already.
"I'm ready to start tonight," Seguin joked Tuesday before he went back to discussing what style playoff beard he'll be growing. This spring people will likely notice a lot more than his facial hair.