"Development" is the vague term we use to describe how hockey players move from potential to prospect to pro, and there's no perfect road to get from A to B to C. The Boston Bruins, in a popular move, opted to keep budding star Tyler Seguin(notes) up with the big club this year (despite occasional struggles), and we're still a long way from knowing if that was the right call or not.
In Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals, the kid got into his first NHL playoff game, and in under 10 minutes of ice time, he managed a dazzler of a goal before complementing that with an assist.
Most Boston fans are now officially frothing at the mouth in excitement -- even the local media want to see more of him. They want him on the power play. They're ready for him to take over the series for them.
But pull in the reins, B's fans.
The kid's not ready to be relied upon just yet.
As an improving player trying to keep up in a league you can't yet dominate, there's nothing you need less than added pressure and excess minutes. Heightened expectations can lead to corner-cutting bad habits as you do whatever you cannot to let people down, and you know it's good old-fashioned stats that they'll use to judge your success. Further still, extra minutes (especially after not playing in awhile) can wear you down, making you more susceptible to injury.
Bruins' coach Claude Julien seems to have a perfect pulse on Seguin's development, correctly connecting the dots between the pace at which they want him to improve with how the Philadelphia Flyers has brought along James vanRiemsdyk. For the B's trying to turn their prospect into a pro, Game 1 couldn't have gone much better — but that hardly means it's time to throw him to the wolves.
The taste of confidence that must've come with his big goal allows him to feel a part of the playoff run as a contributor, not just a hanger-on. And that's ideal to keep his head in the game while he's on the bench, where you want him to do a good chunk of his learning. It's good for him to feel that atmosphere, the energy, and to see the level of play he's expected to someday rise above if he ever wants to be a guy who can take over a playoff game.
Great players in the NHL (or any league) create the pace, which is something entirely different than keeping up to it, something you can see Seguin doggedly trying to do every shift (and I don't mean the speed of the skating — I mean the quickness with which you need to make reads, passes, and all that other good stuff). He can keep up physically, but when you're spending the bulk of your ice time working to keep up mentally, it can become a bit overwhelming.
Not that the level of play is remotely comparable, but I remember playing Minnesota-Duluth during my very first WCHA game and losing 8-2 (I was something like minus-4) — the next night, the rout was back on once again, and I was struggling to keep up, wondering if I'd ever be good enough to compete in that conference.
Yet as a scholarship guy, they kept giving me minutes, and all I managed to do with them was dig myself deeper and deeper into a mental hole. I needed to play, yes, but I needed some time to watch and learn, too.
If you're unable to live up to expectations — as I was that first season — it's easy to give yourself completely unproductive mental floggings, and the B's don't need Seguin starting down that path after getting off to such a great start in his first playoff game.
Julien wisely managed to keep him away from the Tampa Bay Lightning's best defensive pairing — his goal was dynamite, but Marc-Andre Bergeron(notes) and Mike Lundin(notes) aren't exactly the stingiest defensemen left in playoffs at this point.
It's best for him — for now — to have the chance to blow up guys like that until he gets where they want him to be. Another summer of training is going to make a world of difference.
When the Bruins have injuries, as they inevitably will throughout the rest of playoffs, Tyler Seguin can be a quality depth player with some offensive flair, which nicely complements the rest of the B's gritty forwards. He can give them valuable minutes, further his development, and help propel his team towards the Stanley Cup Finals.
The last thing the kid needs is to be looked at as the Knight in Shining Armor who needs to swoop in and win Boston a Stanley Cup.
They haven't done that all year, and have no reason to start after just a single loss. Julien's too savvy to change courses with him now, and that's the way it needs to stay, regardless of how this series plays out.
I know we're all a little excited after Seguin's great playoff debut, and with good cause — the kid can play.
But pull back the reins a little. He's not ready to be play savior quite yet.