When Dougie Hamilton took part in Bruins development camp last summer it was pretty clear just how high his ceiling could be as a professional. It was also apparent just how much work the 18-year-old had in front of him to develop the required strength to compete at the NHL level.
But Hamilton steadily improved through that week of camp and showed flashes of excellence before getting returned to his OHL team, the Niagara Ice Dogs, for the upcoming junior season. Last week, the Bs announced Hamilton's new three-year entry level contract prior to his foray into the World Junior Hockey Tournament with Team Canada.
I dont think I was really too focused on the contract too much. I just wanted to improve everyday and work hard, said Hamilton, who has 12 goals and 45 points in 30 games this season. I just want to get better and do the things I need to do in order to achieve my dreams.
So I think thats one step closer to becoming an NHL player and I think its something that most of the guys, all the prospects do when they are getting closer to make that jump. For me, I am just really excited and am just going to keep working as hard as I can to make the Bruins.
Hamilton has exploded offensively and defensively this season in Niagara, and will compete for a spot at the NHL level next season after showing such impressive growth at the junior level. Chiarelli didnt shy away from comparisons to young Flyers defenseman Braydon Coburn, but it seems that perhaps Bostons 2011 first round pick could eventually aspire to an even higher ground as a player.
Based on what I saw, and based on how I think hell develop, I think he will compete for a roster spot, said Chiarelli, who said that Hamilton could play a handful of games for the Providence Bruins at the end of this season if his junior hockey career is over. The size, skating, range, is all there . . . He finishes with authority. Hes not a crasher and a banger. His gap is always so good; his checking is almost like, just separating. He doesnt need that big gap to hit a guy. Hes always there, so he just separates.
The big question with Hamiltons signing and potential debut in Boston next season is how that affects the rest of the defensemen crew next season.
Zdeno Chara, Andrew Ference, Dennis Seidenberg and Adam McQuaid are all signed for next season, and will be back. But Johnny Boychuk and Joe Corvo are both unrestricted free agents after this season, and its certain that Boychuk wants to re-sign with Boston if given a fair offer. Corvo would likely want to wait out the season before taking a deal. Good thing, because it seems that Chiarelli is going to play out free agency and the new Collective Bargaining Agreement this summer before making final decisions.
It stands to reason that the teenaged Hamilton could be looked at as a potentially cheaper alternative to either of those two defensemen if the salary cap drops dramatically, but Chiarelli said those kinds of decisions were a long way off. Things could potentially change in his mind if Boychuk keeps improving as a top-four NHL defenseman, but that also means the rugged Boychuks price tag could rise dramatically around the league.
I dont really put them together yet. Well see how Dougie Hamilton plays the rest of the year and well see how our guys play the rest of the year, said Chiarelli. There are a lot of factors involved, but I think Hamilton will challenge for a spot next year.
With Chara on the shelf for the next handful of games with a lower body injury (believed to be a left knee issue), the Bruins captain seems mortal for one of the first times in his career. Big 'Z' isnt getting any younger, and Hamilton seems like a natural future partner for Chara when Hamilton eventually begins to learn his way around the NHL.
What better place for a future No. 1 Bs defenseman to learn his craft?
Cracking the Bs lineup is what I am working towards right now. I think Ive improved a lot since I got drafted and over the course of the year. Obviously the team is really good and they are doing really well right now, Hamilton said. For me, thats a goal of mine. Im working as hard as I can and I think next summer is going to be an important one for me as far as my development and for my future.
Its still a long way off in the grand scheme of things, but it seems the Dougie Hamilton Era in Boston is a closer than anybody might have thought.