Seguin's road map to success
Islanders' Tavares, another highly touted teenager, made similar transition
LOS ANGELES -- Now that the NHL entry draft is over and Tyler Seguin is a member of the Boston Bruins after the organization selected him as the No. 2 overall pick, his real development begins.
Even though Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli believes the 18-year-old will have an impact in the NHL next season, there will be challenges to ensure he's comfortable and productive once his blades hit the ice at the team's development camp in mid-July.
A year ago, the New York Islanders selected John Tavares No. 1 overall in the draft and immediately thrust him into the spotlight. The highly talented forward finished his rookie season with 24 goals and 30 assists for 54 points in 82 games.
"Just the difference you experience from playing with men, in size and strength, can really wear on you," Tavares said. "Throughout the year -- on and off the ice -- one main difference was getting used to living on your own and finding a routine that works for you."
Seguin's likely rookie season of 2010-11 will be a little different than Tavares' first year because the Bruins won't rely on their newest prospect as much as the Islanders did theirs.
New York's head coach, Scott Gordon, attended this year's draft and he knows exactly what is in store for Seguin and Bruins coach Claude Julien. Before Gordon became the Islanders' coach, he served as head coach of Boston's AHL affiliate in Providence, so he knows the Bruins' philosophy on prospects and how to work with young players.
"In our situation we're rebuilding and it's making sure [Tavares] is not put in a position that he feels he has to save the franchise," Gordon said. "Seguin's situation, he's going to have a great supporting cast around him. They'll be able to work him in at a slower pace than what we did with [Tavares]. In our situation we wanted to be able have John play for us, but also have an impact for us. At the same time we didn't want to put all the weight of the world on his shoulders."
Gordon made sure he and his assistants were all on board when it came to Tavares' baptism under fire a season ago. It was a learning process, one that Seguin and the Bruins will have to endure once training camp rolls around.
"It's the responsibility of all the coaches," Gordon said. "Throughout the whole year there's going to be ups and downs and making sure the player understands where you're coming from and letting them know you have their best interest in mind."
Having a teenager on the ice at the highest level in the game is a challenge for everyone involved, especially a head coach.
"I always said to John, 'At times I'm going for forget you're 19 years old, and that doesn't mean if I get all over you, or if I'm being hard on you, it's not because I don't care about you. You're an NHL player and I'm going to treat you like one, but understand I'm not treating you any different than anybody else,'" Gordon said. "That was a constant conversation we had just to make him know what we were doing was to make him a better hockey player."
Not only are there challenges on the ice for a young prospect, life off the ice can be just as difficult. These young players, especially top picks, are instant superstars and it can be difficult to handle. Seguin is clearly polished and confident in his abilities, but there will be challenges off the ice.
The Islanders' Tavares lived with teammate and NHL veteran Doug Weight last season, which is a common practice. When the Bruins' Patrice Bergeron was an 18-year-old rookie during the 2003-2004 season, he lived with then-teammate Marty Lapointe; the relationship proved crucial.
Having Tavares living with Weight, and the fact the Islanders had a young team, helped him with his transition.
"The comfort level coming to the NHL with such a young group made it easier for him," Gordon said. "Then our older players are quality people and helped him with the transition. Off the ice, John is a very mature kid. He's mature beyond his years and it wasn't something where you felt you had to babysit him. He was exposed to a lot at such a young age, his maturity and that process was accelerated for him."
A coach's relationship with a top draft pick begins immediately.
The Islanders, like the Bruins, conduct a development camp in the middle of July.
"It started then, getting him a feel for how we work and how we do things on and off the ice," Gordon said. "We got him used to the environment of being a pro. The biggest challenge for first-year players drafted who can potentially play in the NHL is they don't have a lot of quality time to train in summer."
Prospects are pulled in a million different directions before and after the draft, which makes it difficult to properly prepare for development camp and training camp. Teams do their best to make the transition as smooth as possible.
"You talk to [prospects] and try to impress upon them how much harder it's going to be and how hard you have to work off the ice," Gordon said. "A lot of them have their trainers that they're used to working with, but [trainers] don't follow the same protocol that pros follow. You give them a little taste of that in the minicamp and you hope they go home and follow it."
No matter how much prospects prepare for training camp, it's a major wake-up call once they arrive in September and quickly learn what the NHL is all about.
"They quickly realize there's another level," Gordon said.
There was a time last season when Gordon realized Tavares had hit a wall.
He enjoyed a scoring streak for the first couple of months of the season where he was producing at least a point per game, but his scoring touch quickly dried up once December rolled around because opponents figured him out.
"I told him, 'Now you need to bring your game to a different level away from the puck and make better decisions with the puck and compete and battle harder.' That part of his game developed even when he wasn't getting the points," Gordon said.
It got to a point where Tavares was really down on himself because he wasn't getting enough points. Like most blue-chip prospects, these players are used to scoring at will at any age and at any level.
Tavares was so down that Gordon had a closed-door meeting with him right before the Olympics.
"I said, 'You know what? You have to calm down and relax and not beat yourself up so much. You're 19 years old, playing against men, and there will be days when it's just not going to work for you.' He came back after the Olympic break and all of a sudden the points started coming back," Gordon said. "He relaxed and got better in the areas that don't get noticed as much, other than coaches. That was a big turning point for him."
Tavares learned there's more to playing in the NHL than just producing on the score sheet. He learned what he needed to do to be successful.
The Islanders expect and know Tavares will be better prepared for his second season in the NHL.
"This is a big year for John," Gordon said. "He'll make huge strides in his strength and conditioning and we know he'll be committed to do it because that's the type of person he is."
The Bruins hope Seguin follows suit.
Joe McDonald covers the Bruins and Red Sox for ESPNBoston.com.