As the No. 2 pick in the 2010 draft, Tyler Seguin probably didn't expect to sit out playoff games last season as a healthy scratch. His first two games back, he piled up six points and played a key role in the Boston Bruins' Stanley Cup run.
This season, Seguin, 20, made his first NHL All-Star team and is a fixture on one of the Bruins' top two lines. But memories of bag skates and sitting in the press box haven't totally dissipated.
"Even in pregame skate, for some reason, I'm still thinking in my head, 'Maybe I won't even play tonight. Maybe I'll get scratched,' just from last year," Seguin said. "It was a year ago, but it really doesn't feel like it was that long ago. It's nice to be in different shoes this time around."
That's because it's no longer even a thought for Bruins coach Claude Julien. Seguin has grown into a legitimate superstar.
"He made big steps. He mature a lot," Boston captain Zdeno Chara said. "Even still young guy, but he's acting ] more as an adult and a man instead of what we saw two years ago coming as basically a boy."
Seguin endured some bumps along the way, such as getting scratched in December for missing a mandatory team breakfast. But teammates, even when pointing out "he's still a kid," recognize the difference.
Enforcer Shawn Thornton gets rides from Seguin to the rink whenever the Bruins are traveling and has had plenty of chances to talk with him and see his development first-hand.
"I think anybody at 18 coming into this league, there's a big learning curve. I think he's still learning, but he's taking it all in and doing the best he can with it," Thornton said. "He's a lot more mature than I was at that age, I'll say that."
This series has been a whole different kind of learning curve for Seguin. Save for posting on Twitter about a bird making a mess on his phone, he had been nearly invisible in the Bruins' first-round series against Washington before this past weekend.
In Saturday's Game 5, he forced Capitals goalie Braden Holtby to make his best save of the series on a point-blank chance at the side of the net.
"I just kind of read it the last minute and got a toe on it," Holtby said. "Probably the very last piece of metal in my skate."
Seguin appeared snake-bitten, though Julien noted: "When those things start happening, you know it's coming around."
On Sunday, Seguin made the key play to set up defenseman Andrew Ference's go-ahead goal in the third period, poking the puck away from Capitals forward Alexander Semin. Then he forced Game 7 by scoring in overtime, his first goal of the series.
"I think in this series we've had a lot of chances and opportunities, and I haven't been bearing down and finishing them off," Seguin said. "It's just really nice to get that feeling of getting one."
For the first five games of the series, stars such as Seguin, Patrice Bergeron and Milan Lucic — all 20-goal scorers this season — had not been producing.
"We need to see a young player like that gain some confidence if we're going to become a better team down the stretch," Julien said.
Consider Seguin's body of work beyond six playoff games, and the confidence is oozing from his 29 goals and 38 assists during the regular season. Seguin called himself "comfortable and confident" and that didn't fade despite no points in the first five games against the Caps.
"We're pretty proud and pleased at the way he's handled everything since he's been with us," Julien said. "He's a player that still knows that he's got a lot to learn and wants to learn to become the best player he can in this league. What he did [Sunday] is just showcase some of the potential that he's got moving forward."
Seguin used to catch himself staring across the ice during warm-ups at the likes of Alex Ovechkin, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin and admitted to feeling a little "star-struck."
"You definitely have respect for them," he said. "In the end, this is my job now, too. So you respect those great players but not too much to the point where they stick the puck in the back of your net and you're sitting there just watching."
Now, other young players are watching as Seguin puts the puck in the net. He shrugged that notion off, though, saying he's "still a young player."
True enough, but a young player who has matured quickly while rising to stardom.
"You would think it would do the opposite, but we have a pretty good bunch of guys around him," Thornton said. "For as big he's gotten at such a young age, I think he's doing a good job of taking it in stride."
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