Bruins' Hamilton making the most of reduced ice time

Bruins' Hamilton making the most of reduced ice time
February 22, 2013, 4:30 pm
Share This Post

TAMPA – The NHL education of 19-year-old defenseman Dougie Hamilton continues for the Boston Bruins in his first pro season.

While it’s been overwhelmingly positive for Hamilton as he sits in a tie with Edmonton Oilers rookie blueliner Justin Schultz for the most points (eight) among rookie defenseman and is tied for third overall among rookies with seven assists, the young blueliner has also seen his minutes drop in the last few games.

“That’s why he’s in the lineup every night because you see so many good things. He’s a young player that’s still learning,” said Claude Julien. “There will be bumps along the way and we understand and know that. But he’s been more than good for our hockey club so far.”

Hamilton got reduced ice time when the bench was shortened in the third period of a one goal game against the Winnipeg Jets last weekend, and saw only intermittent shifts when Claude Julien by and large went with a rotation of five experienced blueliners. The rookie then saw only 10 minutes of ice time in a 4-2 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning at the Tampa Times Forum on Thursday night – his lowest ice time total of the season to date in a month’s worth of games.

For a rookie that is averaging 17:49 of ice time in 14 games during his freshman NHL campaign, that’s a noticeable drop in playing time. It’s also something one can almost expect to see more of with Hamilton the third period of tight games when one defensive miscue could cost the B’s important points.

Tyler Seguin experienced a similar phenomenon during his rookie year with the Bruins, and it’s really a natural part of the learning process.

“I was shortening my bench in the front and I was shortening my bench on the back end,” said Julien explaining his move after the Winnipeg win as the fourth line and Hamilton were the ones “shortened” in the final 20 minutes. “Unfortunately we’ve been in a lot of tight games because we haven’t been consistently scoring the goals we’re accustomed to. So it becomes an issue near the end of the game where you keep shortening up your bench.”

Hamilton made the most of it against the Lightning, of course, as he assisted on a pair of goals and finished with a plus-1 rating in victory. His shot once again created a rebound in the first period that Nathan Horton was able to pounce on, and it set the proper tone for the rest of the game.

Hamilton was also quick moving the puck from the right point in the third period that led to Zdeno Chara’s slap-pass to Horton for a B’s insurance goal. Both were advanced offensive plays that have amazingly become routine with the gifted Hamilton handling the puck.  

Offense over the occasional defensive gaffe is an acceptable formula if the youngster is creating offense and accumulating points while learning his defensive lessons on the fly.

In saying that, the rookie defenseman was caught both confused and flat-footed by the Lightning attack in the defensive end on a couple of occasions that led to Tampa Bay goals.

Hamilton lost a battle with Teddy Purcell in front of the net after Tyler Seguin didn’t offer much resistance in the corner, and that led directly to a pass that Steve Stamkos hammered past Tuukka Rask. When players like Purcell and Stamkos are on the ice that’s all it takes to lead to goals against.

The young defenseman also looked a bit off with his gap control on a Tampa rush to the net in the second period: Hamilton gave Corey Conacher too much time and space to operate while attacking right down the middle of the ice and that led to another shot past Rask.

There are other factors in both plays, of course. Seguin could have battled much harder to keep the puck safely in the corner and Rask should have been able to stop the Conacher blast that briefly tied the game. But the plays also illustrate why playing the defenseman position in the NHL is impossibly challenging for a young player, and can lead to the healthy growing pains the Bruins are seeing with their prized 19-year-old defenseman.