WILMINGTON Zach Hamill has the kind of perseverance story that people in Boston love.
The 23-year-old didnt meet immediate success when he joined the Boston Bruins organization despite being the No. 8 overall pick in the 2007 Draft, but hes finally carving out a niche for himself in his fourth professional season. Hamill may never be the high-powered, Marc Savard-type center that some thought hed develop into when he was originally targeted following the disastrous Dave Lewis Error, but hes become something of a jack-of-all-trades forward.
It was slightly revealing Monday night when Hamill was in the lineup against the Montreal Canadiens ahead of 20-year-old Jordan Caron, who made the team out of training camp. Theres little denying that Hamill has seized a chance to prove himself by making plays with every opportunity hes been given in six games with the Bs this season: a pair of assists with a plus-5 rating and ice time thats climbed in each of his most recent four games with Boston.
Hamill has forced his way back onto the NHL radar after a pair of mediocre 40-something point AHL seasons.
Hes created a really good situation for himself," coach Claude Julien said. "Hes playing really good hockey every game hes been in with us this year. Its encouraging for us to see a player thats developed. You dont always have to be a great player in your first year, but if you give yourself some time and the organization has been pretty patient with him hes also put in the work to make himself a better player.
Right now hes rewarded us with some solid games. Hes created a nice situation for himself here and were just happy thats hes playing well.
Hamill is developing into the kind of useful player the Bruins can plug into any of their lines at the wing or center, and hes giving them responsible three-zone play and the ability to make plays. The extended audition in Boston will go on a little longer as Hamill was switched from emergency recall to regular recall, and has exactly five more games with Boston before he would need to clear through re-entry waivers.
So Hamill is showing the Bruins and the rest of the NHL what he could offer in a versatile role at an affordable cap hit, and his trade value is rising around the league. Its actually the perfect scenario: Hamill can forge an identity for himself as an NHL-caliber player over a month-long period and the Bruins can buy some time for banged up players like Rich Peverley to keep them fresh.
If Milan Lucic gets banged with a one-game suspension, then here comes Hamill to sponge up some shifts with David Krejci and Nathan Horton.
Hamill wont be going anywhere, of course, while the NHL holiday roster freeze is in effect from now until Dec. 27 a day before the Bruins hit the road to tangle with the Phoenix Coyotes on their first West Coast trip of the season. He picked up power play time along with the shifts alongside Krejci and Horton during the Bs win over the Habs on Monday night a pair of moves by the coaching staff that demonstrate the kind of confidence building in the young player.
In words that will be music to Juliens ears, however, Hamill was kicking himself after the Montreal for letting up a goal while he on the ice for the first time in 10 NHL games with the Bruins.
Its what I really wanted to do -- gain the trust of the coaching staff," Hamill said. "With Looch out it was a chance for me to step up there. I just want to play my game. I came up here and I just wanted to play well in all three zones and I think thats what Ive done. Its something Ive really always taken pride in, not getting scored on. That goal was actually the first against me since Ive been up here. So thats frustrating a little bit.
He now has an assist and a plus-2 in four games during his most recent promotion, and it appears the Bruins have unlocked some of that potential. Hamills increased physical strength and maturity have aided him in his development, but his ability to carry out different tasks on the ice has been at the top of the list.
Hamill can play an energy role or set up natural born scorers with creative playmaking, he can kill penalties with speed and craftiness and the power play off the half-wall seems like a natural fit for someone with his passing abilities.
The Bruins wisely moved him to the wing to start this season in the first of a series of circumstances that have opened things up for Hamill. There was too much quality and too much depth at the NHL level for Hamill to fight through if he was working strictly at center. But his willingness to jump around to different roles and positions speaks volumes about the hunger to earn himself a permanent job in The Show.
Hamill has said in several instances that he wants to remain in Boston even if that means routinely battling for a roster spot or a place in the lineup, but it may get to the point where his value is greater elsewhere in a league where concussions and injuries are opening up opportunities everywhere.
With a high ceiling and a current low price tag entering restricted free agency following the season, Hamill looks like hes playing himself into an NHL role here or elsewhere. The biggest question now is, which NHL team has been watching? Who is going to call on Hamill before hes exposed to re-entry waivers?
Hamill made it through re-entry waivers at the end of training camp this fall, but that doesnt seem like it will be the case again this time around after showing signs that hes beginning to get it before it was too late.