Hamilton sitting more, staying ready for playoffs

Hamilton sitting more, staying ready for playoffs
April 27, 2013, 2:00 pm
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(AP Images)

WASHINGTON DC – As the final weekend unfolds for the Boston Bruins, the lineup combinations and building chemistry that the hockey club will need in the postseason becomes increasingly important. So the forwards lines aren’t changing much aside from necessity caused by injury or illness, and the defense pairings are sliding into a familiar pattern with Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg setting the tone at the very top of the D-corps.

When those defensemen were paired together Thursday night against the Tampa Bay Lightning, it snapped the rest of the Boston blueline corps into place as well. The Bruins are always looking for left-right combinations allowing the defensemen to play on their strong sides, and that leaves two spots for right-handed shots in Johnny Boychuk and Adam McQuaid.

The left-handed shots for Thursday’s win – and the expected lefty shots for Saturday night’s tilt against the Washington Capitals – were Andrew Ference and Wade Redden, and both players fared very well against Tampa. That leaves 19-year-old Dougie Hamilton as the healthy scratch as the Bruins come down the stretch, and it would appears that would put him on the bench to begin the playoffs. Thursday was the fourth time the B’s rookie was scratched in the last seven games, and Saturday in Washington should mark the fifth scratch in eight games.

This isn’t unfamiliar territory for a Bruins rookie development path as Tyler Seguin was a 19-year-old rookie that started the playoffs on the bench a couple of years, and things ended up working out pretty well for both Seguin and for Boston.

Hamilton is a smart kid, and he’s enjoyed an exceptional rookie season as a teenager playing hockey against men older enough to be his father. He’s also probably picking up on the clues and indications that he might not be in the lineup when the postseason begins for the B’s next week, and is approaching things the proper way.

“If I’m not in the lineup for any game then I’ll just continue to prepare exactly as if I were playing, and stay ready for when I’m needed,” said Hamilton. “You just keep working hard all the time, and that’s all that you can do.”

Bruins coach Claude Julien has sung Hamilton’s praises this season, and rightfully so with five goals and 16 points along with a plus-4 rating in 42 games that place him among the best NHL rookie defensemen. But there are clearly things the 19-year-old must work on within his game, and things that might be exploited in the grinding playoffs that are dead ahead in the future.

The rookie needs to get stronger physically while packing muscle on his 6-foot-5 frame, and will need to continue to tighten up his play in the defensive zone. Both of those are expected to develop fully and naturally within the first-year defenseman’s game over time.

“He’s made big strides. He’s been given a lot with being put on the power play right off the bat and he’s made some great plays. He’s played half a season and he’s got five goals, so that really bodes well for the future over the course of an 82-game regular season,” said Julien. “Like any young player he realizes that he’s going to have to get stronger, not just over the summer but in the years to come. He’s got the physique for it.

“The one thing he’s realized is that the guys are stronger, and it’s a much bigger battle for him. But he’s played with [Chara] and he’s played against top lines. That’s the part that he’s going to fine tune moving forward. But what he brings offensively has been pretty positive for him.”

So what are the Bruins looking for out of Hamilton if he does force his way onto the postseason lineup, or if Boston suffers the expected injuries along the blue line once the postseason intensity arrives?

“He just needs to keep playing the way he has. What you don’t want is for a player like that to put more pressure on his shoulders,” said Julien. “There’s more pressure. What we want [Hamilton] to be is more excited about the opportunity, than more nervous. It’s the playoffs and it’s the most exciting time of year. That’s the way the players need to look at it.”

The slow, gradual approach resulted in a teen-aged Seguin becoming a difference-maker for the Bruins in the conference finals and Stanley Cup Finals, so perhaps that same strategy will also work wonders with another 19-year-old on the cusp of his first playoff experience.