WILMINGTON, Mass. – The notoriety Tyler Seguin has around the city of Boston, and especially Bruins fans, continues to astound him even now that he's more than halfway through his second full NHL season.
The latest example of Boston's love for Seguin was during warm-ups before a game Tuesday night against Ottawa at TD Garden. Signs wishing the young forward a happy 20th birthday were being held up all over the building, by people of both sexes, folks young and old.
"In warmups I think counted 25, 26 signs in our end," said Seguin after the Bruins practiced at Ristuccia Arena on Friday. "It was a little unexpected. I was expecting maybe a few in the distance. But I guess it was nice to see. It's nice to see that there's true fans out there and I've never gotten so many birthday wishes as I did in that 24 hours, from even people on the streets and in the mall."
The adulation continued as Seguin, his mother and younger sister made their way around the Hub to celebrate his birthday and that night's Bruins victory. He said his mother couldn't get over it, but by now Seguin knows that comes with the territory. While some fans might just love him for his teen-idol good looks that prompted one local newspaper to name him as Boston's top athletic hunk even while he was still a teenager, Seguin's best assets are his speed and his shot.
After he was seldom-used during his rookie season and Boston's run to its first Stanley Cup championship in 39 years, Seguin has shone as one of the brightest stars in the Bruins' constellation this season. He went into the weekend tops on Boston's scoring charts with 19 goals and 43 points. He's also led the team in plus-minus rating for most of the season.
And don't let Seguin tell you he doesn't track the numbers because before a reporter could ask him about his plus-20-something rating he quickly interrupted to point out it's "plus-30."
If someone wants to play major minutes in today's NHL, taking care of the play in the defensive end typically comes before anything else. And that's why Seguin follows that indicator of how he and his linemates, Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron, are doing defensively when they're on the ice.
"I think so," he said about taking pride in plus-30, "but you look at my last three games, I think I'm minus-5 (he's just minus-4). ... I didn't think we played that bad as a line, but sometimes that's just how the night goes. That's something that I don't want to lose track of. That's something that we need to bounce back from."
Seguin's rookie season was a classic chicken-or-the-egg scenario where he didn't play well enough defensively to earn more playing time, while he couldn't gain experience and apply what he was learning in practice much to games because he wasn't getting a lot of ice time. He showed off his advertised skills in spurts, including his three goals in two games during the Eastern Conference Final against Tampa Bay.
This season, he's found a regular home on Bergeron's line and enjoyed many more highlights, including his first NHL hat trick and his first NHL All-Star Game selection.
Coach Claude Julien preached patience about Seguin's development all last season and the early part of 2011-12. Now that's paying off.
"Last year, we were a team that aspired to win a Stanley Cup and we had a lot of veteran players in our lineup and so our approach was a little bit different," Julien said. "In a way, he doesn't get the ice time that those guys [fellow 2010 draftees Taylor Hall and Jeff Skinner] do. But on the positive side, he gets to live the experience and knows now what has to happen in order to be Stanley Cup champs and he's gained a lot, so maybe he's ahead of the curve in regards to those players where they've gotten more ice time.
"So it's a bit of a tradeoff. But I think this year, it's helped him a lot because he knows what he has to do to stay in the lineup, he knows what he's capable of doing, I think he's gained a lot of confidence from last year even in the playoffs, getting that opportunity to play."
Seguin's had to adjust to both life in the NHL and playing on the wing after skating as a center most of his career. His successful transition might best be quantified by the numerous scoring chances he's generated this season by getting into passing lanes on the forecheck and tracking down puck-carriers on the backcheck before they hit the red line.
"Yeah, I think it comes with competing, something I've been working on, obviously since I got here," he said. "That's a big thing, the forecheck, and being able to take pucks away and having a good stick and just learning what the right areas are and that just comes over time."
Although he strives to become a point-per-game producer, Seguin says he's pleased with his statistics so far this season. His game log reads like a near model of consistency, with just one six-game goal-less stretch and no other slump of longer than four games. Perhaps his only hiccup of his second NHL season came off the ice in Winnipeg, where he overslept, missed a team meeting and was subsequently scratched from that night's game.
Seguin says he's learned from that experience just like the ones on and off the ice before it. And he'll continue to learn as he attempts to forge the type of star career expected of a No. 2 pick.
"Coming into the year [my goal] was really just about keep on earning respect from my teammates, management and coaches," he said. "I think I've still got work to do, obviously. I think being a young guy, and some guys have been here for eight, nine, 10 years. That's what I want to be one day and that's what I've got to keep earning and that's probably still my main goal."
If he accomplishes his goal, Seguin might be around to receive 30th-birthday well wishes from the Boston faithful as well.