-- It took an injury to star center Patrice Bergeron
to get rookie Tyler Seguin
into the Boston Bruins
' postseason lineup.
It took productivity and competitiveness to keep him among Boston's 12 forwards once Bergeron returned.
Seguin famously scored three goals and added two assists in the Bruins' first two games of the Eastern Conference Final against Tampa Bay. While the Bruins were on their way to a seven-game victory, Seguin didn't register another point the rest of the series.
But coach Claude Julien
witnessed the maturation of last June's No. 2 overall draft pick enough to stick with the 19-year-old and scratch veteran energy player Shawn Thornton
for the series' final five games. Seguin had been a healthy scratch for the first 12 Bruins' postseason games.
"I think he's grown a lot from the end of the regular season to that first game he played in the playoffs. And whatever the reasons are, we tried to handle it the best we could and him being around the team and warm-ups and then when he got his chance I think he took advantage of it," said Julien, whose team will open the 2011 Stanley Cup Final in Vancouver on Wednesday. "But I see a more confident Tyler in the playoffs. As he also mentioned, he's going to areas where before he was going there but probably not going in there with lots of confidence.
"And I think the fact that he's got that confidence, he's skating a lot better, he's confident in making some plays. And for that reason he was kept in the lineup. … And even though he hadn't scored, he still created some plays, he still created some opportunities. And that's what you need from him."
Even in the most pressure-packed situation imaginable – Game 7 of the conference finals – Seguin responded and proved how far he's come from being an unsure rookie who scored just 11 goals in 74 regular-season games. He was oozing confidence while firing seven shot attempts, including three on goal, in the Bruins' 1-0 win.
"I think that was my first Game 7 ever," he said. "It did feel like a whole different game. The playoffs have felt different. I think I've gotten used to [pressure]. Pretty much every game is a big game now. The last 15 games have been big games. Really I just want to stay focused, play my game and have fun. I think if I'm going out there worrying about making mistakes, that's when I'm going to make them. I just go out there, do my best and not worry about making mistakes."
A calendar year ago, Seguin was worrying about the NHL Entry Draft and whether he or Taylor Hall
would go No. 1 overall. He visited the 2010 Stanley Cup Final in Philadelphia with Hall and a few of the other top prospects.
"I think even that was a good experience, just being able to go there," he said. "I've never been in that type of a hockey environment just to watch, let alone playing now. So it definitely was a lot of fun."
A couple weeks later, Edmonton called Hall's name first. That meant that by virtue of a fortuitous trade Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli made the previous fall with Toronto, Seguin would join a Bruins' team that had been one win away from the conference finals.
Seguin wasn't guaranteed a job in the NHL, and even after he made the club he averaged just 12:13 of ice time. As far as seeing the NHL game from every angle -- including now the Stanley Cup Final -- Seguin couldn't have asked for a more fulfilling rookie season.
"You keep hoping [to be playing in June]. Coming into this year I knew I was coming to a Cup-contending team. So definitely that's what I hoped for," he said. "I just wanted to do everything I could to contribute. Now I'm standing here knowing last year I was one of the top four or five guys that went to visit [the Final]. And now I'm in these shoes. It's been a long year, it's been a lot of hard work and I'm happy to be here."
There's no guarantee Seguin will be in the lineup when the series opens Wednesday night, but he's proved he can contribute on a big stage. And as his veteran teammates have told him, he'll just continue to soak up everything that goes along with this experience.
"You have to have fun with this experience," said Seguin when asked to rehash his teammates' advice. "This could be my only year in my whole career that I get to be in these shoes right now. So I've got to have fun with it and make sure I leave it all out there."