Tyler Seguin’s move to the wing, added PP time could help him break through

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People love to throw around the term “Sophomore slump,” but what about all the players who make big jumps after struggling as rookies?

Some will reasonably state that Barry Melrose misused Steven Stamkos during his brief run at head coach, but either way, “Seen Stamkos?” turned into a short-lived joke when he struggled in his first season. After scoring 46 points, Stamkos exploded in 2009-10 to score 51 goals and 95 points. He certainly isn’t the first high draft pick to see such a jump in year two, but that turnaround prompts hockey writers to look even deeper for the next Stamkos sophomore.

Since Taylor Hall was more than solid in his first year, it’s natural for people to shift their focus to 2010’s second overall pick Tyler Seguin – especially after he tantalized audiences with his brief but blazing run of offense during the Eastern Conference finals.

Seguin hopes to prove himself this season after failing to convince head coach Claude Julien that he deserved to play during the first two rounds of the playoffs. His teammates and the Bruins’ staff  told USA Today’s Kevin Allen that the learning experience should serve him well this season.

“He learned from sitting and playing in the playoffs,” Chiarelli says. “He knows the sacrifices that need to be made to win a Stanley Cup. … I don’t know if there are other players who have seen what he has seen at his age.”

Boston goalie Tim Thomas says Seguin, 19, benefited from learning how to play in the NHL without being asked to do too much.

“The way he was brought in, he got to avoid all of that pressure that gets put on those kids at an early age. And I think that could be helpful in the long run,” Thomas says. “There will be a time when he does face that pressure — the Taylor Hall-type of pressure. Some guys thrive on it. Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane thrived on it. Maybe Tyler Seguin would have, too. But this is a way to let Tyler Seguin grow up a little bit.”

Putting Seguin in a position (literally and figuratively) to succeed

Julien received his fair share of criticism for the way he handled Seguin as a rookie, but his system isn’t exactly friendly to mistake-prone players. (Phil Kessel found himself in the doghouse on numerous occasions, for example.)

People look at drool-inducing numbers generated by the likes of Jeff Skinner and Michael Grabner, but those players earned those added opportunities because their teams had the openings. Logan Couture got my imaginary Calder vote for fitting in on a legitimate contender, but few rookies had the deck stacked against them like Seguin in Boston.

There are two ways that the team can work Seguin into the lineup in a more comfortable and productive way.

First things first, CSNNE.com’s Joe Haggerty reports that Seguin will start the season at wing position. While that seems like a natural progression considering the Bruins’ underrated center combo of David Krejci and Patrice Bergeron – not to mention the loss of wingers Michael Ryder and Mark Recchi – it also gives Seguin less defensive responsibilities. In addition to that, Haggerty points out that he’ll be encouraged to shoot more, which is never a bad thing for a right-handed player with Seguin’s skill.

The second change is based on conjecture: Seguin should get more time on the power play. Recchi averaged 2:41 PP minutes per game and Ryder enjoyed 2:04, while Seguin logged 1:21 in 2010-11. Bumping Seguin up to a level between Recchi and Ryder could pay big dividends for the Bruins next season, even if he only scored one goal and three points in man advantages during his rookie campaign.

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With those adjustments, Seguin could make a nice step forward next season. The question is: will it be a leap instead? I’d say it will be more of an incremental improvement, but both Seguin and Julien will play a hand in determining his impact in 11-12.

The West’s next round is now set (and wide-open)

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Saturday was a great day for fans of brevity and revenge.

Three of a possible three series ended on this day, with the Rangers dispatching the Canadiens, the Blues eliminating the “better” Wild, and the Oilers knocking off the Sharks in six.

The Rangers await either the Bruins or Senators and the Penguins face the winner of the Leafs – Capitals series out East, but we now know how the West shakes out.

St. Louis Blues vs. Nashville Predators

Both teams provided some of the upsets of this young postseason. Each features a red-hot goalie in Jake Allen and Pekka Rinne. Interesting.

Anaheim Ducks vs. Edmonton Oilers

There will be a lot of orange. We may also see a ton of goals with Ryan Getzlaf on fire, Oscar Klefbom headlining the list of unhealthy players and Connor McDavid possibly able to really take off against a Ducks defense that is beat up in its own right.

It’s already been a strange season out West, with the Kings missing the playoffs and first-round exits for the Sharks and Blackhawks. Get ready – and giddy – for things to get even weirder as the postseason goes along.

Oilers win first series since 2006 after Sharks fall crossbar short of overtime

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After making the playoffs for the first time since 2006, the Edmonton Oilers weren’t just “happy to be there.” They confirmed as much by eliminating the San Jose Sharks with a 3-1 victory in Game 6, winning the series 4-2.

Yes, those young Oilers just eliminated the team that represented the West in the 2016 Stanley Cup Final. Wow.

Ultimately, winning the breakaway battle in the second period indeed made the difference. Leon Draisaitl and Anton Slepyshev scored on their chances in the middle frame while Patrick Marleau could not; Slepyshev’s 2-0 goal ultimately became the series-clincher.

Now, that’s not to say that Marleau was a drag on San Jose. If this is it for one of the faces of the franchise, he had a great 2016-17, including generating the Sharks’ final goal of the postseason.

The Shark Tank was alive after Marleau reduced the Oilers’ lead to 2-1, and more than a few blood pressures rose – both in Edmonton and San Jose – after the Sharks got this close to tying things up.

Wow.

With this result, the West is set. The St. Louis Blues will take on the Nashville Predators while the Oilers face the Anaheim Ducks.

As much as people try to put the training wheels on Connor McDavid & Co., the West is wide-open enough that it’s not so outrageous to imagine a big run for Edmonton.

Beating the Sharks is a pretty nice way of adding an exclamation point to that statement win. And hey … they beat the Sharks last time around, too.

Canadiens sound a lot like Wild after playoff exit (without ‘better team’ talk)

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Much like the Minnesota Wild earlier on Saturday, the Montreal Canadiens are stunned to approach the golf courses so rapidly.

Many of the responses after the New York Rangers eliminated them in Game 6 sound a lot like what the Wild uttered, though there’s no potential bulletin board material like Bruce Boudreau’s line about the better team failing to win four games.

Max Pacioretty viewed this early exit as a “missed opportunity” and never really believed that an elimination was coming.

Claude Julien provided parallel comments to Bruce Boudreau, believing that Montreal generated chances but lacked “finish.”

Brendan Gallagher? He worries that this might have been the Canadiens’ best chance, something the Wild must also worry about with a difficult offseason ahead.

Now, it’s likely that most teams speak about being shocked and expecting better after being booted from the postseason.

Still, these reactions do shine a light on the staggering nature of some of these exits. Will the likes of the Blackhawks, Canadiens and Wild struggle to be in such prime positions in the future? With the Sharks needing a comeback against the Oilers, could the trend continue on Saturday?

The bottom line is that, instead of preparing for a Game 7 after winning the Atlantic Division, the Canadiens are packing up their stuff and worrying about re-signing Carey Price. That’s a pretty stunning turnaround, regardless of the soundbytes available.

Video: Draisaitl, Slepyshev score on breakaways, Talbot spurns Marleau

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Some playoff games or even series come down to something as stupidly simple as one team taking advantage of their opportunities while the other fails to capitalize on chances.

If Game 6 of the Oilers – Sharks series follows the story of the second period, then San Jose may join Saturday’s stream of eliminated teams.

It’s not fair to boil it down to three breakaways, but some might feel that way.

Leon Draisaitl looked like a gritty, strong veteran during his first career playoff goal, bulling his way to the net for 1-0 breakaway tally. About a minute later, Anton Slepyshev was even more alone against Martin Jones, and he scored his first postseason goal to make it 2-0.

That stings for the Sharks, and it doesn’t help that they had a similar chance not long after. This time around, Patrick Marleau couldn’t beat Cam Talbot, so it remained 2-0 for Edmonton.

That’s the same score as the game enters the third period, even with some dangerous late chances for the Sharks.

If the Sharks don’t score at least two goals in the third, their push to return to the Stanley Cup Final could end in the first round.