Although he was edged out for the top CHL honor of "Player of the Year" by Edmonton prospect Jordan Eberle (who's also two years older), Plymouth Whalers captain Tyler Seguin (the likely Boston top draft pick next month) was named major junior hockey's top prospect at the CHL Awards Ceremony in Brandon, Manitoba Saturday night.
Seguin had an amazing 2009-10 campaign, tying with Taylor Hall for the OHL points lead with 106 during the regular season (the two shared the Eddie Powers Memorial Trophy). He actually scored 48 goals to Hall's 40 (finishing just two shy of Jeff Skinner's 50 for the OHL lead), but the Windsor superstar edged Seguin in assists (and also played fewer games because of the two-week World Jr. Championship tournament at midseason).
Seguin got it all started when he led Team Canada to gold at last August's Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament in Piestany, Slovakia. Playing on a line with fellow 2010 draft prospects John McFarland and Tyler Toffoli (they were later reunited as a line on Team Orr at the 2010 CHL Top Prospects Game in January), Seguin took his game to another level, ultimately leading to Canada's fifth such first place finish in the last six years of the tourney, defeating Russia 9-2 in the championship game (Seguin tallied a goal, finishing with a team-leading 10 points in four games).
He then erupted in the first month of the OHL season, streaking out to a jaw-dropping 30 points in his first 12 games for Plymouth before cooling off. By contrast, during his rookie season in 08-09, he failed to score in his first 15 OHL contests, and had just one in 17 games before scoring 20 over his final 44 to break out and set the conditions for his major jump from 67 points to 106. Seguin had a strong playoff as a rookie last season, scoring five goals and 16 points in 11 postseason games in 2009. This year, he had 10 points in nine games, but was held pointless in the four-game sweep against Windsor in the second round.
Although he failed to make Team Canada's 2010 World Jr. (under-20) squad, he was one of the final cuts. He told me last month that he succumbed to some of the nervousness and pressure that works against a player sometimes, but that it was a very good experience for him. He also felt that it was important for him to live with the failure, because it helped to ground him a bit and put everything in perspective. He used it as a launching point to have an outstanding second half of his OHL season, where he surged to the points lead in the final game after capturing a pair of consecutive "Player of the Month" awards in December and January. He admitted that he tried to do too much at the evaluation camp and didn't stick to the things he does best.
Seguin should not be viewed as a consolation prize if Hall goes first overall to Edmonton (and there's no real reason to think he won't unless the Bruins or someone else decide that they must have him and move up). The reality is this: Hall and Seguin are probably 1 and 1A respectively, if you were to poll scouts today. Hall has moved out ahead in their race because he's still playing and on the verge of capturing another Memorial Cup and potentially, a second consecutive tournament MVP honor. But in all reality, the gulf between the two in terms of talent and upside is minute.
If Hall is lightning, then Seguin is a thunderbolt. He doesn't have Hall's explosion or flash, but it's just because he's wired differently and plays a completely different style. Seguin is more patient and cerebral, but don't mistake his lack of "pizzazz" for a skating weakness or inability to produce. He's proven himself as a legitimate scorer in major junior's best league over the last 100-odd regular season games he's played after getting off to a slow start in 08-09, and looks ready to play in the NHL. He may not be ready to take on an active scorer's role at that level, but if the Bruins handle him right, he could make a big jump from his first to second season the way Tampa's Steven Stamkos did.
These things are hard to project, and Seguin will have enormous expectations next season, assuming he's playing in the NHL, just as Hall will. You can't take anything for granted, or assume that these guys are going to play big roles for their respective clubs. At the same time, Seguin's award says a lot about his ability and capacity to play the game at the next level.
Should Edmonton stand pat and grab Hall, then Bruins fans should be thrilled with Seguin and the positives he's going to bring to Boston. He's said repeatedly that he wants to go to the team that wants him, so if that happens to be the Bruins, he'll bring his maturity and level best to an organization desperately in need of a high-end offensive talent.