The notable differences between Tyler Seguin's game with the Boston Bruins the past few seasons and his game with the Dallas Stars this season are attitude, position and production. Ask anyone around the Stars organization and they'll sing Seguin's praises for how good he's been in the dressing room, in the community and on the ice.
"He's been outstanding for us," Dallas general manager Jim Nill told NHL.com.
Seguin feels two of the biggest differences are the makeup of the Stars' roster and the stage the team finds itself in its development, and that those may be the reasons everything else has fallen in line for him this season.
Nill is building around a core of young players that includes Seguin, captain Jamie Benn, rookie Valeri Nichushkin, Alex Chiasson, Cody Eakin and Brenden Dillon. Benn, at 24, is the oldest player in that group. Nichushkin, 18, is the youngest.
Seguin, 21, came from an organization in Boston that had already built most of its core by the time he arrived as the No. 2 pick in the 2010 NHL Draft. Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci and Zdeno Chara were already in their prime. Milan Lucic was three seasons into his career. Andrew Ference, Dennis Seidenberg, Tim Thomas, Nathan Horton, Marc Savard and Michael Ryder were veterans.
"I feel like I'm a part of something here," Seguin said. "It's a growing process rather than stepping into a locker room where the guys have already grown together and I just have to play a role."
Seguin said he used to hear stories from the guys in Boston about what home games at TD Garden were like before the Bruins built themselves into a Stanley Cup championship team.
"It's just different, night and day," he said. "I stepped into a team [in Boston] that was at the result portion of the process. Some of the guys were telling me that when they first started, no one was in the stands, but when I stepped in, it was boom -- it's there. Now it's the reverse. We're trying to build this thing up."
He's certainly doing his part with a team-high 21 goals and 41 points in 40 games. Seguin and Benn have formed a chemistry on the ice that extends to a friendship off the ice. Nill likes to say the two are basically inseparable. It's the type of off-ice friendship that Seguin lacked in Boston because of how much younger he was than everybody else.
"We have similar personalities," Seguin said of him and Benn. "We like to go to work and work hard, have a lot of confidence, but we get along. We're two funny guys, pretty social. It's something that clicked."
It works on the ice for the Stars because they're versatile players. Seguin, a natural center, spent the past few seasons playing on the wing. Benn, a natural left wing, used to play center for the Stars. They're interchangeable in the offensive zone and even alternate on faceoffs, with Benn taking the majority of the draws in the left circle and Seguin taking them in the right circle.
Sharing faceoff duties is working particularly well for Benn, who is winning 57.9 percent of his draws this season, up from 46.1 percent in 2012-13. Benn took 709 faceoffs in 41 games last season; he has taken 337 in 42 games this season.
Seguin has struggled, winning 40.8 percent of his faceoffs (155-for-380).
"And they're both shooters, so if one is taking the draw, the other guy is ready to shoot," Nill said. "They're a pretty dangerous combination."
Seguin was nervous about moving back to center after playing the majority of his first three NHL seasons on the wing.
"I still had lots to learn," he said.
Nill didn't have any concerns, not after seeing so many of Seguin's games with the Plymouth Whalers of the Ontario Hockey League when he was working for the Detroit Red Wings. Nill said starting his career on the wing in Boston aided Seguin's development and has made him a better center.
"It made him learn the other parts of the game," Nill said. "Boston is built to win the Cup, and with a young player, that's what happens. It's no different in Detroit for [Henrik Zetterberg] and [Pavel Datsyuk]; during our Cup years, they were on the third or fourth line. That's the way it is. Now we're fortunate we were able to reap the benefits of acquiring him and he's going to be a guy we're building the team around."
Stamkos healing, getting close
While wearing his Hockey Canada hat Tuesday, Steve Yzerman, who doubles as general manager of the Tampa Bay Lightning, gave an update on center Steven Stamkos, who has been out of the lineup with a broken leg since Nov. 11.
"I believe he'll have his eight-week X-ray when he gets back from Winnipeg later this week, and that's a standard procedure," Yzerman said. "All I can tell you is that his rehab and his recovery are going very well. Every day, people see the updates, him skating and whatnot. He's pushing himself extremely hard, and we'll see how this X-ray goes."
Yzerman named Stamkos to the Canadian Olympic team on Tuesday, but obviously there is skepticism about his availability because of the injury. Yzerman, though, had to name Stamkos to the roster Tuesday to give him the best odds of playing in the Olympics.
"If we didn't name him, if no one is injured between now and [the Olympic break], and we hope no one is, we wouldn't be able to name him," Yzerman said.
Lombardi expecting Jones to thrive again in AHL
Los Angeles Kings general manager Dean Lombardi is not worried about goalie Martin Jones pouting or feeling out of place now that he's been sent back to Manchester of the American Hockey League following a sterling start to his NHL career that featured eight consecutive victories, three shutouts, a 1.41 goals-against average and a .950 save percentage.
Jones already proved to the Kings that he is willing to work on his game at the AHL level in spite of the fact that he may feel he's ready for a full-time NHL role, Lombardi said.
"On his performance last year, we felt he needed at least another half year in the minors because there were some things in his game that he needed to clean up, we felt," Lombardi said. "I remember seeing him two months ago and talking to [Kings goalie coach] Bill Ranford, and he goes, 'Wow, he's taken another step.' It was in the minors, though, and that's where it should happen."
Jones received a similar message Sunday, when he was sent back to Manchester because Jonathan Quick returned from his injury, according to Lombardi.
"He's one of our best students in terms of critiquing himself, listening to his teacher, and doing it," the general manager said. "He was given his instructions by Billy that this is what you need, you've gotta clean some of this stuff up, and I just love the way this kid embraces it by saying, 'Yup, I'll go down there and do it.' I believe he's going to do it.
"There's a lot of kids at this stage when they go down they're like, 'Ah, I got screwed.' Their agent is on the phone talking about how they'll never get a chance. But with this kid, I firmly believe there is an opportunity to clean up some of these things."
Doughty, Bourque, Brady and Muzzin
The question was: Have you seen growth in Muzzin's game this season?
"Hey, he's playing with Drew Doughty," Lombardi said. "You don't think that's progress?"
Yes, but Muzzin was forced into a bigger role last season because of injuries to Matt Greene and Willie Mitchell, and at times, he drove coach Darryl Sutter crazy with the way he handled the puck. Is the same thing happening?
Lombardi acknowledged that it occasionally is, but Muzzin is proving he can be a top-four defenseman in the NHL. He had 14 points in 38 games heading into Tuesday night and was second in the NHL with a 61.2 percent Corsi for rating, according to ExtraSkater.com. That means the Kings generate 61.2 percent of the shot attempts when Muzzin is on the ice.
"He's been put in a role with no security blanket, and that's a huge step in itself," Lombardi said. "That's a big, big transition. You're looking at a potential bona fide top-four defenseman -- bona fide -- and that's not an easy role to fill. Boy, if you don't think you're going to have some pitfalls there … I mean, arguably other than goaltending, that's the second hardest position to learn. It's a hard position to play."
Here is where Lombardi brought up Bourque.
"The psyche of it is incredible, particularly if you're a puck mover," he said. "I mean, you're going to turn over pucks. Ray Bourque led the League in turnovers every year once we started keeping those stats, but the difference was for every turnover, he made 15 plays. Now you talk about a young player; he's got to create turnovers to make plays, but they just have to keep the ratio down."
"Tom Brady will throw an interception, but he can't be afraid to throw the next one," Lombardi said. "It's the same thing with these defenseman when you're breaking them in, particularly one who is going to be required to make plays. It's not only getting him to get better in terms of keeping his gaps, making his reads, making his plays, but when he turns the puck over, get that short-term memory in a hurry. A lot of them don't have that."
Muzzin is learning about short-term memory now, Lombardi said.
"Last year, you saw in the playoffs if he made a bad play, boy, it just killed him," Lombardi said. "I think he's certainly getting better at that. Drew Doughty is a great example. When Drew turns it over, his first thought is, 'Give me the thing back.' That's a special player, but the mindset for all your players needs to be there, and I think [Muzzin] is getting better at that."
Strome primed to break out
With a big smile on his face, New York Islanders rookie center Ryan Strome talked about the long, frustrating wait he had to endure before scoring his first NHL goal Monday against the Dallas Stars. He did it in his 11th game.
"I've been staying out later in the pregame skates, practices, working on goal-scoring really," Strome said. "I've never had to bear down like this to try to get one, but the hard work pays off, I guess."
The second part of that quote is not entirely true, as Strome would clarify later in the interview. He said he didn't score his first goal in the Ontario Hockey League until his 15th game with the Barrie Colts.
"Yeah, they started piling up after that," said Strome, who scored 105 goals in four OHL seasons.
He doesn't expect to go on a torrid goal-scoring streak now that the first one is out of the way, but the Islanders should start to rely more on Strome now that he is off the proverbial schneid.
"He's getting more confidence with each game that he plays," coach Jack Capuano said. "We're still going to continue obviously to monitor his play away from the puck, but his offense, you see it coming every game. I think he's playing with a little bit more poise right now. He's not afraid to make a mistake with how he recovers from that mistake. Offensively, you can see it, and we're just hoping that it continues."
This and that
* Florida Panthers forward Tomas Kopecky is 2-for-2 in the shootout this season despite not getting a chance to shoot before the sixth round either time. He scored in the 10th round to beat the Washington Capitals on Dec. 13 and in the sixth round to beat the Nashville Predators on Saturday.
Meanwhile, Panthers coach Peter Horachek has used Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau as the first two shooters in each of the six shootouts the team has been in since he took over as coach; they're a combined 1-for-12.
* Speaking of Barkov, the 18-year-old who made Finland's Olympic team is working on a Panthers record for points in consecutive games by a rookie. Barkov has a point in six straight games. He beat Radek Dvorak's club record of five consecutive games with a point by a rookie when he had an assist in a 2-1 loss to the Montreal Canadiens on Monday.
Barkov has a goal and seven assists in his six-game point streak. Dvorak had six goals and an assist in five games from Nov. 2-9, 1995.
* New York Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist has allowed three or more goals in 18 of his 32 appearances this season; he allowed three or more in 14 of his 43 appearances last season. He gave up three or more in 21 of his 62 appearances in 2011-12.
* The Buffalo Sabres have improved since Ted Nolan took over as coach because they have cut down on their dreadful first periods. The Sabres have been outscored 11-8 in the first period in 24 games under Nolan; they were outscored 27-3 in 20 games under former coach Ron Rolston. Buffalo is 8-11-3 under Nolan; it was 4-15-1 before Rolston was fired.
Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter: @drosenNHL
"We had a good talk back in May when I took over, and we talked about him taking the team over, it becoming his team. I think that's had the biggest effect. He realizes he's at the stage of his career now where he needs to start leading this team. We talked about his commitment to conditioning, going to the next level, and he did all those things. When we announced him as the captain, it was amazing to see the change in him then. He just grew up, became a man, took responsibility. Jamie was always the type of guy that is very respectful, but when you talked to him, he would put his head down. Now when you meet him, he grabs and shakes your hand, looks you in the eye. He's just become a man. It's been a real pleasure to watch his growth as a person."
Los Angeles GM Dean Lombardi talking about the impact of success for young backup goalies:
"Arguably, when you talk about most important on the field, goalies are the closest to the quarterback, although one is offensive and one is defensive. But you look in the NFL, when Tom Brady went down, Matt Cassel comes in and has a heck of a record playing for Brady. It's very similar to Jones. Cassel comes in, Brady is out and the next year he's like, 'I'm ready. I'm going somewhere else because Brady is back.' The Patriots can't hold him, but they would have loved to have that guy there when Brady came back. Cassel didn't really succeed when he left, but that's the analogy. You talk to the football GMs, it's a revolving door to fill that spot, and all you can do is hope that when the door is open you've got someone there."
Is Chris Kreider a top contender for the Calder Trophy? -- @surlysailor
Indeed he is among the top contenders for the Calder Trophy. In fact, our own Jon Lane wrote that Kreider would win the Calder Trophy if it were handed out today. Kreider, though, has serious competition from the likes of Nathan MacKinnon, Valeri Nichushkin and Aleksander Barkov. What I like about Kreider's game is how physical he is. He's a powerful player with a particularly strong lower body. His legs power him, and he's using them better this season than he has in the past. He's been an effective player since coming back from the AHL. As long as he continues to use his legs, Kreider should be able to create offense and stay in the Calder race.
The Capitals, Hurricanes, Blues and Ducks have an abundance of goalies. Who moves and who is interested? -- @paulfrank17
I can see the Washington Capitals and St. Louis Blues potentially making moves. The Carolina Hurricanes shouldn't do anything as long as Cam Ward is on injured reserve. The Anaheim Ducks are in the same position with Viktor Fasth. The other thing with Anaheim is that Frederik Andersen does not have to clear waivers, so if Fasth returns, they can send Andersen to the AHL without any concern. Trading Jonas Hiller would be a mistake even though he's in the final year of his contract. He's been excellent, and Anaheim is a contending team.
The funny thing with the Blues is they could actually be in the market for a goalie even though they have Jaroslav Halak, Brian Elliott and Jake Allen. Blues general manager Doug Armstrong may try to acquire Ryan Miller from the Buffalo Sabres before the NHL Trade Deadline on March 5. He'd likely want to trade Elliott or Halak in the deal. They're scheduled to be unrestricted free agents after the season.
In Washington, Philipp Grubauer's play is making Michal Neuvirth appear expendable, especially since Braden Holtby is better than he has played and simply needs his confidence back to be good again. Neuvirth carries a $2.5 million salary-cap charge next season. It would make sense for the New York Islanders to make a play for him.
Player rankings are difficult because Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin are completely different players, so how do you rank them? I know that sounds like a cop out, but it's true. How do you rank a pure goal-scorer next to a playmaking center? I will always lean toward the playmaking center as being more valuable player because he makes other players around him better. But the goal-scorer can be the game-breaker. Ovechkin is the best scorer in the NHL.
That said, to answer your question, I'd put Tavares behind Crosby, Pavel Datsyuk, Jonathan Toews and Steven Stamkos, but a notch ahead of Ovechkin. But like I said, I'm a big believer in the playmakers because they make the goal-scorers better, not the other way around.
What country will be the biggest potential dark horse in Sochi? -- @the_saad
Finland. It seems like people always take the Finns for granted, but they're the only country that has medaled three times since NHL players started participating in the Olympics 16 years ago. They have arguably the deepest goaltending in the tournament with Tuukka Rask, Antti Niemi and Kari Lehtonen. Minus Saku Koivu, they have the same core as they usually do, plus they have some young studs in Aleksander Barkov and Olli Maatta. They know how to play the big-ice game. The one question I have is will their defense hold up, but I'm on the lookout for the Finns.
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