BOSTON -- Its easy to forget that Zach Hamill was once considered one of the best young talents in the available draft pool.
Hamill has never amassed more than 14 goals or 44 points in a minor-league season after being the eighth overall pick in the 2007 NHL draft, and hes been viewed as something of a disappointment in most circles. That notion takes on greater meaning when its mentioned that Logan Couture was selected by the San Jose Sharks immediately after him in the actual draft, and Hamill was ranked just ahead of St. Louis Blues forward David Perron on the NHL Central Scouting list that season.
One could also look at the Bruins tapping Boston College defenseman Tommy Cross in Round Two eight picks ahead of Montreal selecting defenseman P.K. Subban. Theres also the matter of Devin Setoguchi and Peter Mueller standing as the two players selected with the No. 8 overall pick in the two drafts leading up to Hamills selection.
But thats all water under the bridge now, and the 23-year-old is far beyond draft pedigree and living up to artificial expectations.
Hamill is looking for an NHL job, and hes playing like it each time he comes up for a cup of coffee with the Bruins. That was the case again on Tuesday night when he set up Bostons first goal in a 3-0 shutout win over Los Angeles at TD Garden, and sparked the team to a solid effort against a Kings team that looks like theyre still searching for their motivation.
Hamill has really begun to find a niche as a jack-of-all-trades forward that can play at center or on the wing, and can slide up and down the line charts. It wasnt the perfect first round existence where he took the world by storm playing his original position -- but it seems like Hamill is finding a way to break through by doing whatever is necessary to get there.
Its good. I think for my sake it feels good to show them that Im versatile, and wherever they need me, I can play any position, said Hamill, who now has three assists in seven career NHL games. So it shows the versatility of my game, and Im happy to show them.
When you come up here you want to be ready, and you want to make the most of your opportunities. Ive been looking forward ever since day one. Ive just been going forward and doing my thing and getting better every day and waiting for my opportunity. Ill make the most of it.
The goal was one only a pure playmaker would be able to envision and then execute with a perfect crossing pass to the player cutting to the net, and thats what Hamill did while working the three-man cycle with Rich Peverley and Benoit Pouliot in an improvised line combination. Hamills forecheck kept the puck in the offensive zone, and then it was the passing pivot that flipped the puck to Peverley cutting toward the backdoor. Hamill had his second assist in three games with the Bs this season, and Peverley had his first goal in the last 14 games with Boston.
That set the Bs off and running in the victory, and unearthed more evidence that perhaps Hamill is turning himself into an NHL asset after all.
When we say Hamill is a first round pick, hes a pretty skilled player and he showed that right off the bat. That was a play that an NHL player makes, said Claude Julien. He had a good heads-up pass and right on the tape, and it was an easy tap in for Rich Peverley. Hes done that a few times for us. Hes been a good player.
I was happy with him the first time he came up and certainly happy with him tonight. He had to play a position at center where hes played most of his career. I thought he adjusted well. He was really good in our own end as far as supporting and battling. I was really pleased with his game.
Hamill again popped up with another play in the second period on another cycle with the Bs fourth line. Hamill had the puck in the slot area with heavy traffic in front of the net, but the center opted to move the puck toward Shawn Thornton closer to the net rather than shoot it himself.
The dish might have been some of that pass first instinct of a natural born center, but it ended up drawing a Slava Voynov tripping call in the first period that led to a Bs power play.
We were cycling pretty well from the first shift on. I was just trying to get a quick start, and then just work from there, said Hamill. The last time I came up here I was called a lot to play third left wing, and thats what I did. This time Im called upon to play fourth line center, and thats what I did. Whenever they need me, or wherever they need me, Im willing to go to.
Hamill is up on an emergency basis filling in for Gregory Campbell while he recovers from a fractured foot, but one has to wonder if it could ever be on a permanent basis given his offensive abilities. The pivot keeps making things happen when he finds his way into NHL games, and it gets him one step closer to his NHL dream.
Some in Hamills situation -- being held back organizationally in some ways by a stacked big league roster -- would be looking to impress opposing scouts and perhaps spark some kind of trade talks with their upgraded play. But Hamill still sounds determined to eventually find a way into the Bs fold whether its filling in this season, or finding a permanent home on the wing next season after resigning as a restricted free agent.
When I come up here I come up with the idea that I want to play for the Boston Bruins. Theyre Stanley Cup champions. You just look around here and there are guys that just know how to win. The guys in the room have that winning attitude and I think with my game I could be a good contributor to this team, said Hamill. Theres nothing I can do, but play whatever role they give me as best as I can.
If Hamill continues to produce in Campbells absence and flashes that same valuable versatility with each approaching game, the former 2007 first round pick might just start living up to that heightened reputation he began this journey with.