BOSTON – The Bruins have insisted that Dougie Hamilton getting scratched the past couple of games wasn’t “performance-related” and certainly that’s partially true. But it is about the 20-year-old defenseman’s ability to handle the considerable responsibilities inherent in being Zdeno Chara’s defenseman partner in a playoff run and the natural, deliberate development process for a young D-man at the NHL level.
All of that factored into Hamilton being a healthy scratch against the Panthers and Canadiens after being benched in the third period and overtime of Saturday’s win over the Tampa Bay Lightning.
The second-year defenseman understood all of the above upon returning to the lineup Thursday night in a 2-1 victory over the Phoenix Coyotes. He finished with a plus-1 rating in 17:02 of ice time. It’s a big difference from last season when Hamilton didn’t really know what to expect once he started going in and out of the lineup down the stretch prior to the playoffs.
“I’m more used to it now. Obviously, it’s not fun not playing, but I think I got to learn a lot last year through that whole playoff run. I know more what to expect and what’s expected of me,” said Hamilton. “So [it’s about] just trying to I guess get my game to a trustworthy playoff game in this last month or so. Hopefully I can do that and earn a spot.
“It’s about just keep improving, I think. I’m still young, and have a lot of stuff to learn, and I have to remember that I’m still young. Just to keep adding things. I think it’s just the last stretch, and [it’s about] getting ready for playoff hockey so trying to play that way.”
Clearly, it wasn’t all perfect. A Brandon McMillan shot nearly bounced off Hamilton and ricocheted into the net in the second period immediately before Jarome Iginla’s game-winning goal.
Shane Doan also got behind Hamilton and Zdeno Chara for a breakaway in the second period where he was bailed out by Tuukka Rask. But in general Hamilton was pretty solid paired with Chara against the Coyotes in his first game back in the lineup, and showed some defensive snarl and physicality while battling in the defensive zone.
That, more than anything else, is what the Bruins need to see to forecast what will happen when the battleground escalates in the playoffs.
“We’ve told him as a coaching staff the whole time that he’s a good player, and he’s going to be an even better player as we move on here. What we’ve asked him is to be patient with us because he came in here as a nineteen-year-old…a 19-year-old that’s on a team that’s rebuilding is going to play a ton, a 19-year-old that’s on an established team doesn’t get the same luxury,” said Claude Julien. “But he gets the luxury of developing in a winning environment, and finding out quickly what it takes to win so he’s in a good situation.
“I think he trusts us, I think we know what we’ve got, he knows that we know that as well and it’s just a matter of being patient. He comes in tonight, plays a good game, like he moved that puck well and he was assertive and all the little things that you talk about. You can see that effort in him and that’s what it is, and it’s trust. It’s respect and that has to happen both ways here.”
The trust continued for Hamilton and the Bruins on Thursday night when he jumped back into the lineup, and watched fellow young defenseman Torey Krug instead become the healthy scratch for a game.