BOSTON -- Rookie Tyler Seguin has shown flashes of the brilliance that had him enter the 2010 NHL draft as a top prospect and persuaded the Bruins to use the second overall pick on him. Seguin has only a goal and two assists through six games, but that raw offensive talent is there and has been on display at times. What is still very much a question early in Seguin's rookie season is whether or not he can be the two-way player the Bruins need him to be. Can he be responsible enough in his own zone to match up against the opponents' top two lines?
"Well, I think he's still in that process of getting better every game," Bruins coach Claude Julien said of where he felt Seguin's game is after the team's 3-2 loss to the Rangers last Saturday. "You know, you try to give him as much ice time as you can. You certainly can't ... right now you certainly can't expose him against top lines. That much I think we're all unanimous on. He's a guy that I feel that whenever he gets the puck and you give him some space, he's a dangerous player. But obviously there's more to the game than that. But he's finding and feeling his way through that."
As Julien pointed out, the center position carries the most responsibility of the forward positions, and right now the Bruins aren't sure if Seguin can handle that responsibility. This was one of the reasons the Bruins originally had Seguin slotted to play wing. But with Marc Savard out with post-concussion syndrome, that plan changed.
"Centermen, and it's not just about him, but a centerman has probably the most important task in our own end of supporting down low and also making sure that he takes away those passes that are going to the slot and everything else, so it's a big responsibility," Julien said. "You're going from side-to-side and those players, it takes a while, and that's why at the beginning of the year we were hoping to have him on the wing, and that would have helped him probably feel his way a little bit better in the league. But we were forced to use him there obviously with Savvy being out."
When asked about Julien's comments, Seguin had no issues and agreed he has work to do on his defensive game. But he does feel he has improved since arriving for training camp and even development camp in July.
"I think I have improved a lot since I came to camp and it's funny because my junior coach was actually just saying to me, 'Why couldn't you do that for me?' and so I think that tells me that I'm improving," Seguin said. "But I know that I can do better and need to do more to survive in this league. I think there's more little things you need to learn and do at this level than in juniors, and I'm still learning that."
According to Seguin, that has been the focus on him from the coaches and front office, to tighten up defensively and be a more responsible player. But while trying to adhere to that, he is doing his best to not suppress his offensive talent and creativity.
"That's been the main message, getting better in my own zone, but that being said, I can't lose my offensive abilities that got me here," Seguin said. "In the end I want to be a complete player and be a responsible player that the coach can rely on in key moments."
That description embodies the player Seguin has mentioned looking up to on many occasions since being drafted: Tampa Bay Lightning general manager and longtime Detroit Red Wing Steve Yzerman. Yzerman is the reason Seguin chose to wear No. 19 as a Bruin and he knows if he keeps following Julien's direction, he could some day be a complete player like his idol was.
"He had to change his game a little bit and he didn't mind doing it," Seguin said of Yzerman. "He became one of the best two-way players and even at the end when they asked him to be mostly a defensive forward, he didn't gripe. I'm going to be that way too and in the end, hopefully I can be like him."
Seguin's teammates notice him striving to be an Yzerman-type player as well. Veteran forward Mark Recchi sees an 18-year-old doing his best to fit in and become what the team needs him to be.
"You see him out there and he's learning and getting better for sure," Recchi said recently. "We all know the pure offensive skill he has but it's doing the little things that matter in this league and he's trying to do that. He has the right attitude and he's doing his best to learn from the coaches and his teammates."
In an interview on a Montreal sports radio station Tuesday, Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli gave the same assessment as Julien and Recchi.
"The plan going in was, here's a player who has tremendous skill, has tremendous hands, tremendous speed, a terrific wrist shot, snap shot, even one-timer, but is 18," Chiarelli told host Tony Marinaro on the Team 990. "So here's someone with a great package that we need but we want to make sure we develop properly because that's what we pride ourselves on, trying to bring these young guys into our lineup over time. So he's shown us all that and confirmed our original impressions by his play."
But just as Julien and Recchi pointed out, Seguin still has room for improvement in the defensive zone. All signs continue to point to Seguin making that improvement at the NHL level. The Bruins will have to decide whether to keep Seguin or send him back to his junior team in Plymouth prior to his 10th NHL game, and while the final decision hasn't been made, Seguin's efforts to improve appear to be good enough to retain a spot in Boston.
"He's got things to learn -- you guys know how Claude Julien coaches, he prides himself on defensive side of the puck -- so Tyler has things to learn there and he's getting better at them and he's doing everything right now that he has to to stay for the year," Chiarelli said. "We're able to put him on a third line and that insulates him a little bit, and at the same time he gets some power-play time, which is good for the confidence. Right now he's doing everything he has to do to remain for the year. We haven't made that decision yet, but we're close to making it."
James Murphy covers the Bruins for ESPNBoston.com.