Boston Bruins forward Tyler Seguin is playing some of the best hockey of his career right now, and with the team's third line struggling to produce offensively, the 21-year-old star's resurgence could not have come at a better time.
After scoring just three goals in his first 17 games this season, Seguin is finally starting to hit his stride, and he is making the Bruins a much tougher team to defend in all three zones. Boston has the second-best record in the Eastern Conference at 15-3-3, and a lot of the team's recent success (7-2-1 in its last 10 games) can be attributed to Seguin's stellar play of late.
"Honestly I thought he was playing well all year, he has really improved his compete level, the way he plays in both ways of the rink and obviously it pays off, he’s really playing well and I think it’s something he can add to his game which is pretty scary," said Bruins forward Patrice Bergeron, whose goal in Thursday night's 4-2 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs was assisted by his linemate Seguin.
No team brings the best out of Seguin as much as the Leafs, who have been unable to stop the former No. 2 overall draft pick since his rookie season in 2010-11.
He has 16 points (10 goals, six assists) in 14 career games against Toronto, including two goals and an assist on Thursday night, which was his fifth multi-point game of the year.
Seguin ranks third on the team in scoring with 18 points, second in goals (7), third in assists (11) and first in shots (69). He also has 12 points (four goals, eight assists) in his last 10 games. When you watch Seguin play, you can see the impact that this recent success has had on his confidence level.
"There’s no hesitation in his game," said Bruins head coach Claude Julien. "When he skates the way he can skate and takes the hesitation out, a lot of good things happen for him."
Boston's second line of Seguin, Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand has been the best trio in the NHL at both ends of the ice over the last two weeks, and Seguin's play is a huge part of that.
Each player on the second line ranks in the top three on the Bruins in scoring and plus/minus—over the last five games, they have combined for nine goals and 12 assists.
In addition to his impressive play offensively, Seguin is also making a strong impact defensively, which is where his game has mightily improved since he came into the league. He has 11 hits, a 64.7 faceoff percentage and his 17 takeaways rank third on the team. His plus/minus rating of 16 ranks second on the Bruins and the league as a whole.
Seguin has gotten a lot stronger over the last few years, and this is noticeable when watching him battle for pucks in the corners and along the boards.
"I think the last couple weeks I’ve just been playing good in my D-Zone and competing a lot more than I think I was in the start of the season," said Seguin.
"Over in Europe I think I was circling a bit more and didn’t really have to battle, I don’t even know if I got hit over there for the few months I was there but I had to find that game again with me, and I think it’s coming around now."
The Bruins want Seguin to be a complete player that gives just as much effort in the defensive zone as he does on offense. His two-way game has been quite impressive this season, which is why it won't be surprising if he finishes the year as the team's leader in scoring and plus/minus rating.
The expectations of Seguin going into this shortened season were incredibly high, but give him credit for finding his game after receiving a lot of criticism for his early struggles.
"I think there’s a lot of pressure on him coming into the year with his new contract and with how well he did over in Switzerland," said Bruins forward Brad Marchand.
"He’s just focused on playing, and when he does that he’s a great player, and you see it night in and night out right now. He’s making a difference."
When Seguin is on top of his game and playing with a high level of confidence, there aren't many forwards in the NHL who can cause defensemen more problems than the Bruins forward. His speed, high hockey IQ, accurate wrist shot, playmaking ability and improved defensive play allows him to be successful in any type of game situation.
If he continues to produce offensively on a consistent basis, Seguin could become the first player to lead the Bruins in goals scored for two straight years since Glen Murray in 2002-03 and 2003-04.
Nicholas Goss is an NHL Lead Writer at Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter. He was a credentialed reporter at the 2011 Stanley Cup Final and 2012 NHL playoffs in Boston. Nick has also covered the Bruins since the 2010-11 season. All quotes obtained first hand.