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Seguin embracing expanded role for Stars under Hitchcock

The All-Star center has run with new responsibilities to play a strong two-way game

by Mark Stepneski @StarsInsideEdge / Inside Edge

Back in April, when just-hired Dallas Stars coach Ken Hitchcock said he wanted to turn Tyler Seguin into a true No. 1 center, the Stars forward was relishing the opportunity.

"It gets me giddy," Seguin said back in April. "Since I've come to Dallas, I've wanted to be a No. 1 centerman and a two-way guy."

That role as a No. 1 center meant Seguin would be counted on for more than just goals and points. He'd be a two-way guy. There'd be more responsibility, including the penalty kill, playing against the opposition's top players, taking critical faceoffs, and playing at key times in the game at both ends of the ice.

"That's what a [No. 1 center] does," Hitchcock said.

Now, nine-and-a-half months later and more than halfway through the 2017-18 season, Seguin has become what Hitchcock envisioned. And for Seguin, the enthusiasm is still there.

"I've found a way for it to be fun," Seguin said. "In the past, it's been about goals or points, and this is the first year where I've shown my game has changed a bit, evolved. Sometimes it hurts the point production in a way, but it's been putting my energy in other places."

The offensive numbers are still there for Seguin, who has 43 points (23 goals, 20 assists) in 50 games and is tied for ninth in the NHL in goal scoring. And other numbers tell how his game has evolved. His ice time is up about two minutes per game this season over last, much of that coming from the added responsibility of penalty killing, a new role for him. He's averaging 1:28 of penalty kill time per game and scored the first shorthanded goal of his hockey career.

"The penalty kill has been a huge difference in how I am playing in a game," Seguin said. "Obviously, the minutes have been higher, and I've enjoyed the opportunity."

Video: DAL@BOS: Seguin makes nifty deke, nets OT winner

Seguin ranks 16th in the league in faceoffs taken and 14th in faceoff winning percentage. He's already set a career-high in blocked shots with 27.

"I am thinking a lot more about defense, a lot more faceoffs, a lot more little things," Seguin said. "I am judging my performance on those things rather than goals and assists. That's been the biggest change for me, trying to put the work in before the skill."

And the work has earned high praise from Hitchcock.

"He's become a way more competitive player," Hitchcock said. "His compete level at the puck, his attention to detail; he's made huge strides as a 200-foot player. I always use that term, but when you ask a guy to go from killing no penalties to being a prime-time guy, you ask a guy to block shots, you ask a guy to be out there at the end of games, important minutes and then you ask him to play against top players; if you haven't done it your whole life, it's a big adjustment.

"He's made those adjustments in half a season, which, to me, is terrific."

One of the high points for Seguin this season was his performance at Boston on Jan. 12. His highlight reel goal to win the game in overtime, where he weaved his way through three Boston defenders and outwaited Boston goaltender Anton Khudobin before putting the puck into the net, drew a lot of the attention. But his overall game was outstanding.

Going head-to-head with Boston's Patrice Bergeron, one of the game's premier two-way centers, Seguin played 23:13, won 12 of 21 faceoffs and his line with Jamie Benn and Alexander Radulov outscored the line of Bergeron, Brad Marchand, and David Pastrnak 1-0 at five-on-five during the game. That's pretty good when you consider the Bergeron line has dominated at five-on-five this season, outscoring opponents 22-4 during five-on-five play this season.

Again, more praise for Seguin from Hitchcock.

Video: Seguin and Klingberg discuss making the All-Star team

"He's accountable in every situation. He's matured. He's a guy we don't worry about anymore. Everybody talked about can you make him a [No. 1 center]? Well, quite frankly, he's a one. He's playing like a one," Hitchcock said. "This is what you want in a No. 1 center, and he's doing the job. He's killing penalties, he's out there taking key faceoffs, he's quarterbacking the power play, he's playing against the other team's best players. To me, that's what a one does, and that is exactly what he is doing."

The Stars envisioned Seguin as a No. 1 center when they acquired him from Boston in 2013, but it didn't always work out that way over the previous four seasons. Last season, for example, Seguin centered the top line for the first 13 games and about two-thirds of the time up to the All-Star break. After that, though, not so much as he played a lot of wing and was moved down the lineup at times.

But with the arrival of Hitchcock, a new opportunity and steps forward in Seguin's overall game.

"I think it is an overall maturing of his game," said Stars GM Jim Nill. "He's realizing - and this goes for a lot of the players on our team - they're realizing that if you play the right way, you are still going to have success on the offensive side. Tyler is realizing that if I play well in my zone, if I play well in the neutral zone I might even get the puck more than I do the other times, and I am still going to get the same points. Maybe the points aren't quite as high, but you are having success as a team. That's what we want to do."

It was a bit of a struggle at the start of the season, but the players have caught on and bought into what the coaches and management were preaching. And since Nov. 18, the Stars are 19-9-3, ranking fifth in the NHL in points, fifth in goals against (2.42) and sixth in goal scoring (3.23).

And Seguin has been doing his part at both ends of the ice and getting satisfaction from knowing that his contributions have expanded beyond goals and points.

"I've always known I could find ways," Seguin said. "But I've always felt I've been the guy that if we're looking for that goal, I am going to get that goal and, if I am not scoring, it's a bad game. This year, I am still getting some goals, but it's changed in the respect that the goal is about one faceoff, or the goal is a big kill or something like that. They are out of character things that I haven't had as a part of my game in the past that Hitch has given me the opportunity for this year."

An opportunity Seguin has run with this season.

This story was not subject to approval of the National Hockey League or Dallas Stars Hockey Club. Mark Stepneski is an independent writer whose posts on reflect his own opinions and do not represent official statements from the Dallas Stars. You can follow Mark on Twitter @StarsInsideEdge.

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