Monday, July 5, 2010

A year in the development of Tyler Seguin...Red Line style

Back when Joe Colborne was Boston's first-round selection in 2008, I charted his progress over a year in the Red Line Report, going through each issue from the 2007-08 season to pull out highlights and scouting reports on him.

I thought that as I get ready to travel to Boston to see Colborne and the newest raft of B's prospects at the development camp this week, now would be a good time to do the same for Tyler Seguin, the second overall pick in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft.

Now, from talking to Tyler several times during the season and then in L.A. before and after the Bruins called his name, he brought up the point each time that unlike Taylor Hall, he was not seen as a potential NHL franchise-type player when he first arrived in the OHL two years ago, and that he's been most proud of his significant improvement from one year to the next. Seguin's assessment is borne out when you go back to Red Line's 2009 NHL Draft Guide, in which they posted their top-70 rankings for the 2010 draft class one year out. Seguin is on there, but all the way down at No. 13. And, he gets nary a mention in the one-page narrative which accompanies the rankings.

Well, Seguin made some money in July when he attended Team Canada's Under-18 evaluation camp, because by the August 2009 issue, he had moved up to No. 5 on Red Line's top-110 (they don't expand their rankings to cover all seven rounds until a couple of months of the hockey season are in the books).

Here's the writeup on Seguin in the Aug. '09 issue, based on what Red Line's scouts saw from him at camp. It shows clearly that Seguin burst out of the gates in the middle of the summer, and never looked back.

Tyler Seguin, RLR Aug. '09:
Best player all camp long ownedthe puck and made his line go. Has a knack for thinking one step ahead of where the puck is headed and being the in the right place at the right time with his stick on the ice ready to finish. Eagerly challenged defenders at the blue line and, despite his lack of a separation gear, was slippery to contain due to his magnetic puck control. Routinely makes plays in tight and maintains possession while knifing through congested areas. His special hands facilitate delicate passes and precise finishing ability, as he buried the puck top shelf from in tight. Hits wingers on the tape with cross-ice saucers without breaking stride. Intelligence and vision are so exceptional it's easy to overlook skating deficiencies, though quicker feet would help. Keen anticipation allows him to intercept breakouts and turn them into prime scoring chances. Won't overpower guys physically and doesn't finish all his checks, but arrives early to puck battles and will take hits to make plays. Dangerous player who makes those around him better.

A ringing endorsement, though the skating comments are curious to say the least. One NHL scout told me in April that he graded Seguin a 5 out 5 in skating, even if he didn't have the explosiveness and lightning speed that Hall possesses.

In September RLR raved about Seguin's huge role in leading Team Canada to gold at the Eight Nations (aka Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament) in Slovakia, and moved him up two spots to No. 3 on their overall rankings behind Hall and teammate Cam Fowler, while featuring him in their "rising" section and profiling him in their OHL top-18 (at No. 3, obviously).

Seguin, RLR Sep. '09:
...Tyler Seguin was magnificent in leading Canada to the gold, and continues to show that his game has morphed to a whole new level since we last saw him skating for Plymouth.

Tyler Seguin-- Was the best performer at both Team Canada's U-18 evaluation camp and the Ivan Hlinka Eight Nations tourney-- that basically makes him the best '92 on the planet.

OHL preseason profile (3 of 18)
Had an excellent second-half last year, and appears to have made huge improvements in his overall game. Was easily the best player this summer at both Team Canada U-18 camp and the Ivan Hlinka tourney. Slick and smart with a bit of an edge to his game. Outstanding hands; can dangle at top speed with his head up looking to make plays. Can either dish or score and does both very well. Lacks an overdrive gear to his skating, but he can get there. Not the biggest cat, but he's not small and far from a shrinking violet. Was paired with two OHL stars when he took off last season, but the big question ios can he continue to thrive in his own and make his mates better. We think the answer is yes.

As you can see, Red Line was enamored with Seguin, and the OHL season had not even begun yet. They featured him in their always-informative monthly "draft spotlight" segment, which is an interview with player and coaches, framing the individual's potential nicely. I won't reprint it here, but knowing now how things turned out when it was written for the September issue, everyone could pretty well see the writing on the wall for him.

In October, the Seguin machine was in full swing, with RLR putting him on top of their rankings for the first of two consecutive months before Hall would re-take the lead in December and take it all the way home. However, while it raised eyebrows in October, had anyone posted Kyle Woodlief and Co.'s reasoning for Seguin being on top of the world in April, it would not have made a ripple in the gulf of debate between the two outsized OHL stars.

Seguin, RLR Oct. '09:
...We know it's only three weeks in and this may be controversial, but Tyler Seguin's performance, dating all the way back to August's Team Canada U-18 Evaluation Camp and the subsequent gold medal performance at the Ivan Hlinka Eight Nations tourney, means that the Plymouth star has ascended the throne and currently sits atop Red Line's early season rankings. Before you laugh, hear out our reasoning.

It's simple: Seguin has just been on fire! He is presently leading the OHL in scoring with staggering 11-7-18 totals in only seven games. He has recorded a point in each of his team's seven games and has been in on 18 of Plymouth's 29 goals so far this season- or 62%. He is the Whalers' unquestioned main man and, with the injury to R,J, Mahalak, has elevated his game and put the entire Whalers' squad on his back.

Plus, he's doing all this without the support of a star studded lineup, the way Hall and Fowler benefit from in Windsor.

We're not taking anything away from Hall or Fowler. We just feel that Seguin has to be rewarded for achieving an incredibly high level of play and sustaining it for over two months now. At Red Line, we reported that he was a man among boys in dominating Team Canada's U-18 camp and he was clearly the Hlinka tournament's dominating force in Slovakia. Whether or not Seguin can maintain this level of play for an entire season remains to be seen, but for now, he has earned the right to be RLR's #1.

In November, Seguin was still No. 1 on RLR's rankings, but the publication moved on to cover different players and topics. However, I conducted an interview with Woodlief and Seguin came up in the discussion. Here's what RLR's chief scout had to see about him then:

Bruins2010DraftWatch: How is the Class of 2010 shaping up overall?

Kyle Woodlief: I think it's a pretty good crop, a fairly deep crop and I really like a few of the players at the top. (Center) Tyler Seguin is going to be a top forward someday with his outstanding two-way game and upside.

B2010DW: Red Line has Seguin over Hall as the top player available in the draft;(Editors' note: So does Central Scouting, who released their midterm rankings today. More on that later) Why Seguin over Hall, who has certainly been a fan favorite to be the No. 1 pick in June?

KW: (Seguin's) just a smarter, better player overall. He's got the two-way game and is a tremendous hockey player who thinks the game as well as he plays it. Hall's skills are elite and he's more polished at this stage of his career, but in my opinion, Seguin does more to win hockey games on a nightly basis than Hall does. His developmental curve is a straight line heading upward right now, and I just really like his upside and potential to be a star performer at the NHL level one day.

By December, Hall was back on top to stay, but again, RLR showed a penchant for some prescient prognosticating as evidenced by their prediction for a head-to-head playoff matchup between Windsor and Plymouth way back before Christmas:

Seguin, RLR Dec. 09:
...Dig in and gird yourself for a long battle folks, because with the calibre of the horses in this showdown, we spect this see-saw battle (between Hall and Seguin) to continue all season long, right down to the wire next spring when the OHL playoffs commence.

And wouldn't it be special to see Seguin and Hall (and lively longshot Cam Fowler) square off in a kind of "match race" if Windsor and Plymouth manage to draw each other at some point in the OHL's western conference playoffs- not at all an unlikely scenario?

In January, Seguin's inability to make Team Canada's World Jr. Team didn't dampen RLR's enthusiasm, as he was profiled in the OHL's midseason recap profiles section.

Seguin, RLR Jan. 2010:

OHL midseason profile (2 of 18):
Hall is the flashy Pavel Bure/Ilya Kovalchuk of this crop, Seguin is the Joe Sakic/Steve Yzerman. Not as up-front dynamic as Hall, but a damn fine player with some great puckhandling skill; can dangle in traffic and dart east-west effortlessly to avoid contact. Can thread the needle with his pinpoint passes or laser beam shot. Not a blazing skater, but it's not a major flaw. Pro-release wrist and snap shots already. Makes those around him better, gets them involved in the play. Equally adept at dishing and finishing. Will take hits to make plays. Smart and creative, still has to improve his play away from the puck and in his own end, but doesn't shirk his responsibilities or float outside the blue line.

In February, RLR recapped the CHL Top Prospects game in January, played in Windsor's home rink. Seguin captained Team Orr, and they had this to say about him:

Seguin, RLR Feb. 2010:
Tyler Seguin-- Just average for us here. Showed his lateral agility, has the ability to avoid contact with quick moves at top speed. Lacking a breakaway gear, but his first two steps are good. Has the ability to make something out of nothing. Maintains puck possession after first contact.

RLR also had this interesting tidbit on the Seguin-Hall dynamic in their "Off the Record" section about a Plymouth-Windsor game played the day before the Prospects events kicked off:

"...First off, on a day when all the participants knew that half the audience were scouts, Seguin clearly outplayed Hall at the offensive end all day, playing the game at top speed every shift and creating a lot of chances. Seguin also opened the scoring with a great backhand goal on the fly to get his team rolling on the way to an easy win."

You can read the rest in Woodlief's Feb. USA Today column if you check the archives on that site.

The months of March, April and May were quiet for Seguin, as he was outplayed by Hall (who also had a better team around him) in the OHL playoffs' second round and missed out on the Under-18 tourney because of his OHL commitment (maybe that was a good thing in hindsight given Team Canada's putrid performance there).

That leads us to the annual 2010 Red Line Report draft guide, which had this writeup on him:
Seguin, RLR June 2010:
The premiere two-way talent in this draft. The yang to Taylor Hall's yin. Seguin is much more cerebral, though also highly skilled, dangerous and productive. Tied for the OHL scoring lead with Hall despite having much less talent to work along with him. Tremendous vision and anticipation, deftly moving laterally to create time and space. Has a plus-shot, especially his wrist/snap shots which he can release off either foot at top speed. Isn't nearly as gifted or explosive a skater as Hall, as he lacks the blazing speed, but his quickness and agility are excellent. Can score and distribute the puck with equal aplomb. Isn't overly physical, but competes hard and will compete in the dirty areas. High-end creativity and puck skills. Driven and hard-working off the ice; has come a long way in a short period of time thanks to his determination.
Projection: Star calibre first line pivot
Style compares to: Joe Sakic

No. 2 on Red Line's award for "Best natural hockey sense" behind Mikael Granlund.

Well, there you have it: a year in Seguin's development as chronicled by Red Line. My thanks to Kyle and staff for letting me share their observations here on this forum. I often find it fascinating to go back and put the puzzle pieces together when all is said and done-- much harded to do during the course of the season, when the mind is trying to gather as much info. on all the other prospects as possible. Now, with the draft in the books and Seguin a Bruin, it's much easier to compile the reports and put together the picture that the RLR scouts so painstakingly tried to paint over a period of 365 days.

Enjoy, and I'm looking forward to seeing Seguin on the ice in Wilmington this week.