Ken Hitchcock has some big plans for Tyler Seguin. In his first press conference after he was hired, he had this to say about the 25-year-old Star.
“I’ve got to work hard in the summer here to make Tyler start thinking like a (top center),” Hitchcock said. “I want him to be back at center on a consistent basis. And I need him to act, think and behave like a No. 1 center.”
Sure, it’s the Mike Modano story. Take an immensely talented offensive forward and have him transform his game into a two-way game. It sounds great, but the Modano transformation was risky — even though it worked out as well as anyone could have expected.
The obvious concern here is if Hitchcock transforms Seguin in a way that does help him defensively, but inadvertently hurts him offensively enough to make the defensive changes have no real impact. This isn’t an easy transition to make, so there will likely be some growing pains.
If we look at the guys considered the top defensive players in the league, whether they should be held in that regard or not, it’s easier to see exactly what level of offensive production Seguin will be measured against. Patrice Bergeron, Ryan Kesler, Jonathan Toews, and Anze Kopitar have consistently been nominated for the Selke Trophy as the top defensive forward in the league for several years now. Seguin dominates that group offensively at even strength.
Seguin is 1st in Points/60 by a full half of a point. He finished with three more goals than Kesler to top the list and was second in even-strength ice time to Kesler by only five minutes. He was tied for the lead in this group in assists at even strength too. Offensively, of this group, he would have been the Alpha last year. If he drops from these levels the story would be a little different.
The scary part is that Seguin had a bit of bad luck in 2017. He took more shots last season than any year of his career, but scored the fewest even-strength goals in a season since his rookie year. In the lockout-shortened 2013 season, he was only three behind last year’s pace. An average shooting season from Seguin puts him in the 35-goal range again. If that luck normalizes like it should, Seguin might not see a drop in production at all.
What does this change look like on the ice? It’s a mental shift that is intended to guide all of his actions. Instead of Dallas Stars YOLO Hockey where they race up the ice with reckless abandon looking for offense at any and all opportunities, the focus will be on the good opportunities. It means playing well without the puck and maintaining good positioning to be able to capitalize on those chances with that same energy they’ve had in the past.
It seems like a minor change, but it should fundamentally change what they are. The chances they took that burned them usually burned them because they started scrambling in their own end and never could recover. It isn’t a recipe for success to simply hope things work out defensively. The changes Hitchcock wants to see should limit those problems even if the overall game is more boring.
Jamie Benn is the face of the Stars franchise these days, but Seguin is arguably more important. If he can successfully make this transition, there will be no argument to be made. He’ll be the most important piece on the roster, and a legitimate MVP candidate. He seems eager to take on the responsibility. It won’t be easy. Transitioning Seguin will be one of the most interesting stories to follow in the 2017-18 season across the league. A large portion of the Stars fortunes will rest on how successfully it works out.