January 29, 2013

Tom Caron: Hamilton looks like he belongs in Boston -- now

BOSTON - Technically, it's decision time for the Boston Bruins.

COMING UP

TUESDAY: New Jersey Devils at Bruins, 7 p.m. (NESN)

THURSDAY: Buffalo Sabres at Bruins, 7 p.m. (NESN)

SATURDAY: Bruins at Toronto Maple Leafs, 7 p.m. (NESN)

Monday night, 19-year old wunderkind Dougie Hamilton played his fifth NHL game. Under the lockout-adjusted rules of this 2013 season, NHL teams must return prospects to their junior team before six games if they want to keep that player from becoming a rookie (and starting the clock on his professional contract.)

This is often the type of personnel move that leads to a lot of front-office agita. Do you let the youngster take his lumps against the world's best players, or give him another year in juniors where he can develop while you extend your control over the player an extra season?

In this case, there is no debate. Hamilton has already proven himself to be too valuable to let go.

"It's a no-brainer," said one Bruins executive regarding the decision on Hamilton.

The Bruins were ecstatic when Hamilton was still available with the ninth overall pick in the 2011 draft.

Scouts who watched him closely over the years thought for sure he would be gone before the Bruins were called to the podium. Eight forwards were chosen before the Bruins jumped up and quickly grabbed the best defenseman in the draft.

In four games, Hamilton has already proven himself to be the type of puck-moving defenseman the Bruins have been searching for since the last lockout.

Tomas Kaberle, Derek Morris, Steve Montador, Dennis Wideman, Aaron Ward and Brian Leetch (playing the final year of his Hall of Fame career) all tried to fill the void.

Hamilton seems to be filling it nicely with his 6' 5" frame. Coach Claude Julien paired him with the tough and durable Dennis Seidenberg to start the season, but Seidenberg missed the next two games with injuries.

Julien moved Hamilton alongside Zdeno Chara, putting the black-and-gold twin towers on the ice to face the opponents' top line.

That meant, on Jan. 23, the rookie was out there staring down Rick Nash, Brad Richards, and Marian Gaborik at Madison Square Garden.

More than the three assists in the first four games, it was his defensive work that night that impressed the Boston brass.

"He's already developed quicker than we expected," said a Bruins talent evaluator.

If there was an upside to the work stoppage that cancelled the first three months of the season it's that Hamilton got to continue playing and developing away from the bright lights of the NHL.

That extra seasoning has made him ready to dig in and battle on a nightly basis. His plus/minus has been in the red just once in his first four games, and he has shown an impressive ability to get the puck up to the talented group of Boston forwards.

The Bruins have returned to the ice and have already drawn record ratings in their early-season games. Fans believe the team is ready for another run at a Cup this spring.

The last time the Bruins won two Cups in three seasons was 1970 and 1972, when a young defenseman in his early 20s amazed us with his jaw-dropping rushes up the ice.

Dougie Hamilton is no Bobby Orr. At least not yet.

But the poise he's showing in the early days of his career is impressive, making fans dream about what he could do with this team in May and June.

Tom Caron is the studio host for Red Sox broadcasts on the New England Sports Network. His column appears in the Press Herald on Tuesdays.

 

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