The season-long education of 19-year-old Dougie Hamilton continues to roll on in Boston.
While the rookie blueliner isnt admitting that hes slammed into any kind of rookie roadblock in a first NHL campaign sure to have both bumps and triumphs, Hamilton did admit there have been some significant adjustments.
Whats been the biggest change for Hamilton in the NHL?
Its been positioning and coverage in the defensive zone at the pro level. In his junior days with the Niagara IceDogs things were a little more chaotic in the defensive zone. There was less structure and strict positioning at the junior hockey level, so obviously there was less required of a guy like Hamilton. Hes fallen back into OHL mode at times this season for the Bruins, and left the net vacant to chase after puck carriers leading to goals against.
Thats something the coaching staff has been in constant discussions with the rookie about through this season consistent with a young player going through the NHL for the first time.
One of the mottos I use with our system all the time is that they will come to you, said Claude Julien. You dont have to run all over the place. If youre playing your position then eventually somebody will come into that area. There are times when hes tried a little too hard and found himself out of position. Thats where he gets into trouble.
I told him once he gets used to it and it becomes second nature it will go a lot easier on his game. You can make less of an effort, but be in the right position and get more out of it. Then you can be fresher when you really need to push on the attack. Hes a smart individual and hes catching on quickly.
There are specific places where a defenseman needs to be in Claude Juliens system. Its usually camped directly in front of the net protecting the Bs goaltender and forming a human wall between the shooter and the net.
Learning the system has been different. Its different in the NHL than it is in the OHL, said Hamilton. Its more controlled in your own end here. I think Ive done a pretty good job with it, but talking to assistant coach Doug Houda has helped me out a lot. Im still trying to learn some things.
In the OHL its a little all over the place and sometimes guys are out of position more doing individual stuff. Here its more team stuff where you need to be in the right place and always be an option. I definitely like it better here.
Though he hasnt registered a point in the last six games and is a minus-3 over that time, the defenseman said hes playing exactly the same game. Hamilton is trying to make that smart first pass to jump-start the transition game and create rebounds with his quick punch shot from the point. The points just havent been pouring in like they were in the first handful of games, but Hamilton didnt sounds like he was panicked.
I still feel like Im playing the exact same way as I did earlier this season, said Hamilton, who has four assists and is a minus-3 in 11 games while averaging 18:53 of ice time. Whether the passes arent working or pucks arent getting on net for rebounds so you can get assists there, Im still playing the same way. Im pretty happy with how Im doing.
I thought my last game against the Rangers was good. Obviously there were a couple of shifts where you wish you had done things a little differently, but something like that happens in every game. I dont think Im in a valley now and I dont think I was at a peak before. I think Im just playing the same way I have all year. Im just trying to improve on my mistakes and thats what you would expect from a 19-year-old.
Its not all on the ice for Hamilton as a rookie in the NHL, however.
One area where Hamilton is enjoying a smooth transition is in his living arrangements after moving into Adam McQuaids condo in Charlestown at the start of the season. The 19-year-old said he spends a fair amount of time sitting on the couch watching television when hes not on the road or at the arena, but he still appreciates the 26-year-old McQuaid showing him the ropes of being a pro hockey player.
There has been a lot of TV and couch time at home which I like a lot, said Hamilton. Its great to have him around, and hes helped me with cooking, how to use the dishwasher and how to do laundry. He did everything as far as cooking for the first few days, but Ive been trying to get in there a little more. Its been really good so far.
Coming into the season I wasnt sure what to expect: where I was going to live or how I was going to be able to do it without my parents. So far Im enjoying it and havent had any problems.
Its been just as rewarding for McQuaid, who welcomed Hamilton to his single guys pad by cooking him his rugged defenseman specialty: spiced chicken and mashed potatoes. The Bruins defenseman said watching Hamilton go through his first NHL experience almost makes him feel like hes a rookie doing it all over again as well.
Its fun to have him around. He doesnt really need me to show him a whole lot, but Im there if he has any questions. Our personalities are pretty similar too, so we get along well, said McQuaid. Ive been saying that maybe I can show him a few things off the ice, and he can show me a few things on the ice.
For him at his age just playing at this level and everything that goes along with that while trying to live on your ownit can be a lot. I just try to show him the odd thing here or there. When everything is new to someone and youre going through it with them, its almost like youre doing it over again yourself. Its not the exact same thing, but its like when people have kids: they get to go through the excitement through their kids of the things that they loved as kids.
Watching a teenager going through the NHL experience for the first time isnt just energizing and refreshing for McQuaid, however. It brings out a young enthusiasm in the entire Bs hockey club, and thats above and beyond the talent that the 19-year-old has already exhibited in his first month of NHL action.
The Dougie effect has been a very good thing for the Bruins even as its a work in progress.