Bruins face tough roster decision with Hamilton

Bruins face tough roster decision with Hamilton
September 26, 2013, 2:30 pm
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(USA Today Sports)

WINNIPEG – Everybody knew coming into Bruins training camp that one talented, young defenseman was going to wind up on the outside of the top six provided the rest of the Boston D-corps made it through camp in one piece.

With Zdeno Chara, Dennis Seidenberg, Johnny Boychuk and Adam McQuaid firmly entrenched as four established defensemen for Boston, there remained two openings for the Baby Bear trio of Matt Bartkowski, Torey Krug and Dougie Hamilton. All three have experienced their high points over the last three weeks, and both Krug and Bartkowski have the offensive numbers to back them up.

The 20-year-old Hamilton has been a little slower in his progress throughout camp, but has looked better with each passing game as other defensemen have been jettisoned to AHL camp. The first decisions are still solid and correct, and Hamilton’s positioning is improving all the time.

The one area where Hamilton still sometimes struggles is simply battling to hold his ground in front of the net, but time and simple physical maturation are the two things that will help him best in that department.

“We’ve got eight ‘D’ now and everyone can play. It’s just a decision the coaches will have to make about who is going to play,” said Hamilton. “You can’t think about it too much, though. They end up making that decision.

“All I can do is my best. That’s all I can control while keep trying to get better, and adding things to your game as the season gets closer.”

Now only the rugged Kevan Miller stands with established seven defensemen in Bruins camp, and Boston is left with a difficult decision concerning their roster. One thing that could help Hamilton’s case: showing more of that passing vision and aggressive offensive mindset he featured in his first few months in the NHL last season while eventually posting five goals and 16 points in 42 games.

“There are a lot of things when you talk about Dougie [Hamilton] that comes into play. He came from having a long year [last year], playing a ton on this team and playing with the world junior team, so he played a lot of hockey,” said Claude Julien. “He came to us and I thought he was really good. I would suspect fatigue caught up to him in the latter half of the season and he’s a young player.

“This year he’s coming in a little more fresh than he was last year and right now it’s about giving him some games and finding that confidence that he had when he first came here. That’s what we’re trying to do with him, and you’re going to see him in the next couple games.”

While Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli’s “goal” was for Hamilton to be a member of the NHL roster to start the season, one has to wonder if that will actually happen when the regular season opens. Hamilton worked hard over the summer and arrived in camp with a much more mature approach following the hardship of being a healthy scratch during the last two rounds of the playoffs.

The 20-year-old feels like he’s put his best foot forward during camp, and nobody would doubt that for a second.

“I think this is the last chance to show what you got and try to get ready for the start of the season,” said Hamilton. “As camp has gone on, I’m just trying to get more comfortable and show what I can do in the games. It’s about keep trying to play well.

“You’re always playing with different guys and the power play always seems to be different. It’s an adjustment whereas the season is more set in stone with the lines, and everything. It’s a different aspect.”

But the bottom line is that Hamilton might be better served starting the season in the AHL while Bartkowski and Krug secure the final two spots in the top-six. Skating 25 minutes a night while playing top power-play and penalty-kill minutes could offer quite a bit while working with a Providence Bruins coaching staff that’s helped develop Boychuk, Bartkowski and Krug into quality pro defensemen.

That would certainly be far better than sitting Hamilton as the spare defensemen, and potentially endangering his development process as a potential franchise D-man a couple of years down the road.

“I think he needs to make sure that not only is he fighting for a spot, but he’s also fighting to be in the lineup,” said Claude Julien of Hamilton. “As you know we’ll carry seven ‘D.’ Does he want to be in the top-7, or does he want to be in the top-6? That’s how he has to approach it.

“He’s a guy that’s improved with every game. We’ll continue to keep a close eye on them. There are some veteran guys that come in and breeze through training camp, and there other guys like Dougie that have never been in camp with us before. You need to take those things into account. We need to be careful we’re not too hard on him, but he also needs to understand the situation that he’s in.”

What would Hamilton think if his immediate future saw him go to Providence for 30-40 AHL games to start the season after he skipped that step last season?

“It’s just hockey, so I’ve just got to play,” said Hamilton. “I don’t really think about. My head is about making the team and playing. I don’t think about the negatives too much. It’s a game and you just go out and try your best to control what you can control.”

Hamilton will have two final preseason games to help control his fate in what’s been the most competitive battle for defensemen roster spots in recent Bruins history.