BOSTON – While there is a slight tinge of surprise that both Torey Krug and Matt Bartkowski have tasted early success in the Stanley Cup playoffs as rookies, it was always supposed to be this way for 19-year-old Dougie Hamilton. The 2010 first round pick played in 42 of 48 games for the Bruins this season, and finished second among Boston defensemen in goals (5) and third in overall points (16) while averaging 17:08 of ice time.
He started the playoffs on the bench after the Bruins dealt for veteran Wade Redden, and was able to observe a portion of the postseason intensity and pressure while also getting his feet wet in Game 2 against the Maple Leafs while Andrew Ference was suspended. But just as circumstances necessitated Tyler Seguin’s entry into the playoffs two years ago, injuries have pushed the rookie into regular playing time in the last two postseason games in a top defensive pairing with Zdeno Chara.
That gradual path to the present for Hamilton has allowed the young defenseman to step in without missing a beat for the Black and Gold.
“If anything [Hamilton] has played extremely well for us this year. We’ve all got to remember that he’s 19 years old,” said Claude Julien. “What he’s done for us this year has brought a good-sized defenseman to our team that moves the puck extremely well, and sees the ice well.
“He’s made some unbelievable plays on some goals. We saw that early when he came in, and we seemed to be in awe of that. [The] playoffs is another step, and he’s taking that step extremely well, to me. [In Game 1] he was making good decisions, playing with Chara, sometimes against their top line. To be able to put him out there against the other team’s top line shows that we do have confidence in him.”
That pairing had disastrous results in their last regular season game together as Chara and Hamilton combined for a minus-4 against the Philadelphia Flyers in a sloppy, listless defeat. But Chara and Hamilton reunited for the playoffs was a much different outcome in Game 1 with big No. 33 leading the way with 38:02 of ice time and a pair of points.
As was the case during the regular season, Chara is setting the example for Hamilton to follow.
“I keep calling him a machine because of how good he is for all of the minutes that he plays,” said Hamilton, marveling at the Bruins captain that he’s watched lead the Bruins all season. “He maybe plugs himself in at night. He’s pretty incredible.”
While Chara is certainly incredible on a regular basis and was pretty super-human in Boston’s Game 1 victory, Hamilton was equally remarkable as a teen-ager asked to play 20:45 of ice time against top New York lines in the second round of the playoffs.
Hamilton finished with a plus-2, and assisted on Torey Krug’s pivotal power play goal in the third period on a slick play where he calmed the puck at the blue line, and then served it on a platter to his fellow rookie defenseman. Even more important, Hamilton kept the puck away from danger in his own zone and improved as the game went along after shaking off some early jitters.
“I don’t really feel like a rookie or a new player anymore. I just feel like a guy that’s trying to take advantage of the situation that I’m in,” admitted Hamilton. “There’s more intensity. Every play matters, and you care about every play more. Guys are willing to work harder to not make mistakes. There are definitely some games during the regular season where it feels like the playoffs, but now there is consistently more intensity and more of a willingness to do what it takes to win.”
The trio of Hamilton, Krug and Bartkowski injected life, energy and some upgraded offensive ability to the table on Thursday night, and all three are hoping to keep doing the same as long as they’re in the lineup.
For Hamilton, it’s the same qualities he flashed during the season: the ability to move with and without the puck while manning the point on the power play, a keen sense of making the first pass out of the defensive zone and the knack for finding shooting lanes to the net.
Now he just needs to add consistency to the mix in the postseason, and the Bruins will have themselves a young offensive-minded asset giving them a totally different dimension this spring.