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NHL Hotstove 2012: Where to play Seguin?

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Tyler Seguin is coming of a brilliant sophomore season in the NHL on an individual level. In his first season as a top 6 player on the right wing, he led the Bruins in Goals and Points. While he started the Bruins Eastern Conference Quarterfinals Series off slowly, he ended it with both the breathtaking skill we've come to expect (Game 6 OT) and the lunch pail gritty type of goal (Game 7) that Bruins fans have been hoping to see from him all season. As the early end to the Bruins title defense left Bruins fans wondering what can be done to return the team to the Cup Finals, we also wonder, will the Bruins return Seguin to his natural center position or will they leave him on the right wing where he was so wildly successful this past season?

When Seguin was drafted in the summer of 2010 off of the Plymouth Whalers, the consensus was that he was another in a long line of talented Bruins centers. He has also said in the past that center is his preferred position. That being said, he was a revelation at wing this year in Boston. Whatever line he was playing on served as that night's de facto first line. The 67 points Seguin scored were the most by a Bruin winger since Claude Julien got to Boston. His 19.8 GVT this season placed him as the 7th most valuable forward in the NHL. Where to play Tyler Seguin next year isn't so much a question mark, as it is an envious position to be in. It would appear that the Bruins have three options.

1. Keep him on the Right Wing. The first option is the simplest and perhaps the most likely. The Bruins don't have nearly the same depth at wing as they do at center, especially when you take into consideration the uncertainty surrounding Nathan Horton. Moving Seguin to Center would in all likelihood leave the Bruins needing two additional wingers in the top 9 and without a significant number of internal options to fill those voids. There's also the issue of faceoffs, where Seguin has yet to crack 50% in either of his NHL seasons. It's possible that the lack of work in that area both in game and practice situations this year led to that drop off, but in order to play center for a Claude Julien coached team, Seguin is going to need to improve on the dot. Continuing on that line of thinking, Julien also demands a certain level of responsibility in the defensive zone. While Seguin made tremendous strides this past season with his defensive play at wing, those responsibilities are magnified by quite a bit in the middle. It's not rare that the wingers on a Claude Julien team were former centers at some point from juniors forward (Horton, Peverley, and Marchand all fit that description at one point or another).

2. Move him to Center, along with Bergeron and Krejci. The next option is a return to the three strong center alignment that the Bruins last ran for a full year in 08-09, when they led the league in goal differential and were one point from winning the President's trophy. Going this route would make sense if the Bruins were convinced that in the long term, Seguin could help the team most as an elite center, but wanted to be protected in the event that the experiment doesn't get the results they expect. At first glance, one would wonder if placing either Bergeron, Krejci, or Seguin on the 3rd line would be the best use of their talent. But this is another area where it's important to keep in mind Claude Julien's tendencies. Julien has a socialist mentality when it comes to his top 9. Chris Kelly, the Bruins 3rd line center this past year, received almost 13 minutes of ES TOI/game, without being a factor at all on the PP. Krejci, the 3rd line center in 08-09, received nearly 17 minutes of ice time a game, which is more than Seguin saw on the wing last season. One way to look at this option is from the lens of the last series against the Capitals, while Pouliot-Kelly-Rolston were a solid 3rd line, they weren't quite effective enough to take advantage of the Wideman/Schultz pairing to the extent that a line created around Bergeron, Krejci, or Seguin would have.

3. Move him to center, trade Bergeron or Krejci. Admittedly, I don't really consider this an option, but there are a number of Bruins fans who feel that the best way to upgrade the top 6 is to move Seguin to center, and trade Krejci as part of a package for a "sniper". While Krejci is far from an elite center, he's been at or above 60 points in 3 of the past 4 seasons (with the 09-10 season being the one he played through an injured hip) despite being somewhere between 30-40th amongst centers in ice time per game. While not Selke level like Bergeron, Krejci is a defensively reponsible center who has thrived in Claude Julien's system. It's hard to imagine a legitimate trade acquisition involving David Krejci that would make the Bruins a stronger team for the long haul. Players that are more valuable than Krejci are likely not going to be traded, and it's not a guarantee that players AS valuable are going to fit as well with the Bruins. It also leaves the team potentially shallow down the middle with Chris Kelly and Gregory Campbell eligible for UFA status on July 1. This is a situation the team vowed not to find itself in after the collapse against Philadelphia a few years back. It's possible that Rich Peverley could serve as the 3rd line center in this scenario, but the possibility also exists the the team prefers Peverley at wing as well. Not to mention, in any lineup that doesn't feature an elite right wing to play with Seguin, it might be helpful to have Peverley on Seguin's right side, to allow him to cheat a little bit in the faceoff circle until his skillset improves there with more repetitions.

Regardless of the decision the Bruins make, the talent and versatility that Seguin provides, allows the team to explore many options this offseason on the trade and free agent markets. It's entirely possible that the Bruins make their decision based on the best value acquisition they can make and which combinations find the right chemistry in training camp and the early going.