If there were such a thing as NHL report cards then incoming freshman Dougie Hamilton would be getting straight As from the Boston Bruins after his first two appearances in Black and Gold.
The 19-year-old rookie was solid and unspectacular in his debut over the weekend after being dropped in a playoff-style atmosphere against the Rangers, and thats probably the best one could expect. But Hamilton took another step forward on Monday when more was asked of him after Dennis Seidenberg went down with a lower body injury, and couldnt answer the bell against Winnipeg.
Instead Hamilton was bumped up to the top defensemen pairing with Zdeno Chara, and that meant several things to the youngster.
It meant more responsibility and more ice time with the captain thats helping him learn the position at the NHL level, and more of a challenge facing the other teams best offensive talent. It also meant more ice time with players closer to his level than the man among boys setting hed been playing in with the Niagara IceDogs over the last two seasons.
Talking to him, he doesnt seem uncomfortable at all. Its not the pace thats going to bother him, because hes a great skater. He can keep up with the pace. Everything just happens a little bit quicker, which hes doing fine with, said Andrew Ference. He can move the puck, and I think he mentioned it as well; its almost easier to play at this level because all your teammates are in such good position.
Thats the biggest difference between this league and every other league: guys do have such good positional hockey awareness. Hes able to jump in with his skill set a lot easier than a guy thats just working hard because hes got the raw talent.
When the 19-year-old is excited about something, its likely to be some combination of cool, awesome or great. That kind of unfettered enthusiasm from a hockey-loving youngster is refreshing in a veteran dressing room like the Bruins, and speaks to just how much the former first round pick is relishing his opportunity.
Its really cool. I think when you can see that and just want to play better, said Hamilton. Every time youre out on the ice youve got to realize who youre playing against and just try and play your best and not let them score.
I didnt really come in with expectations, so everything that Im getting Im really excited about. I just want to make the most of the opportunity and do my best. Thats all I can do.
As opposed to keeping a low profile offensively as he did Saturday night, Hamilton even jumped up to join the offensive rush a few times and was robbed on a golden scoring by Winnipeg goalie Ondrej Pavelec in the first period. It was the exact proper read with one of the Bruins forwards down low helping Zdeno Chara break the puck out of the zone, and it allowed Hamilton jumped ahead on the rush and kept the offensive pressure on the Jets.
Thats exactly the kind of offensedefense the Bruins envision for Hamilton as he develops into a franchise-type defenseman capable of playing in all areas during all situations.
Logging 23:27 of ice time paired with Zdeno Chara and finishing with three shots on net and three hits along with a blocked shot in his second NHL game showed Bruins coach Claude Julien everything he could hope to see.
He was put in a tougher position today than he was in his first game, with Dennis Seidenberg out and Aaron Johnson playing his first game, said Julien. He had a bigger role to play. Even in the second half, I noticed that he was making better plays with the puck than he had so far. I think thats his confidence coming around. Hes starting to feel his way through these games, and thats pretty impressive for a young player.
Theres still the technical question of whether Hamilton will remain with the Bruins through his fifth game of the season, and go past the threshold when he could be returned to his OHL team in Niagara. Its an option the Bruins have if Hamilton struggled against NHL competition or seemed over his head in the strength department. The Bruins could even opt to return Hamilton if they decided the short 48-game regular season wasnt worth burning the first year of Hamiltons three-year entry level contract.
But none of that is anything close to reality after the teen-aged Hamilton has shown he can skate, pass, shoot and play with anybody as one of the youngest players in the NHL this season.
To me hes on our team, hes a player Im relying on until they tell me that hes not going to be here anymore, said Julien.
Dont expect anybody in the Bruins organization to tell Hamilton that he has to leave Boston for a long, long time after two games of overwhelming proof that he belongs now, next year and 10 years into the future.