|Center Zach Hamill, the Bruins' first-round draft choice in 2007, has shown he has NHL ability, but continues to improve on his strength and speed.
"He proved in juniors that he could put up points in the regular season and the playoffs," Boston Director of Hockey Operations and Player Development Don Sweeney said. "He played for Kevin Constantine, so he understands how to play in all three zones. We have talked to him about the expectations of our centermen. Zach has excellent hockey sense, outstanding actually. He has very good vision and hands. We like what we've seen of Zach."
The Bruins picked Hamill after he won the 2006-07 Bob Clarke Trophy as the Western Hockey League's leading scorer with 32 goals and 93 points while centering the first line for the Everett Silvertips, then coached by Constantine.
Hamill played four full seasons with the Silvertips, and four games as a 15-year-old before returning to midgets. In 250 WHL games, he had 87 goals and 175 assists. Hamill led the Silvertips in scoring once and twice was second. Not only is he a reliable scorer, he makes teammates better with his sharp offensive-zone passes.
Hamill signed with the Bruins shortly after being drafted and attended the team's 2007 training camp. He played in one preseason game and was returned to Everett, where he had 26 goals and 49 assists. The Bruins then assigned the right-handed center to the AHL's Providence Bruins for seven regular-season games, in which he had five assists, and nine Calder Cup Playoff games, in which he had a goal and three assists.
"I had an unbelievable time in Providence at the end of the season," Hamill said. "It was tough to lose in the playoffs, but I had an opportunity to play professionally in Providence, something I looked forward to and it turned out to be a great experience for me. It was another growth opportunity because I lived by myself for the first time.
"I played on a line with Martins Karsums and Pascal Pelletier in Providence and they are two pretty good players. Everyone treated me like I had been there all year. I was coming to a new team and the way they treated me was a great experience.
"I just tried to take in everything I was taught by my coaches there, Scott Gordon and Rob Murray. It was one of the best experiences of my career and I'll use that momentum to move forward."
In junior, Hamill was the third pick in the 2003 WHL draft and lived up to expectations in juniors. By the time he left Everett, he held seven Silvertips scoring records.
"Everett was great, and we had a lot of good players come through there," Hamill said. "It was a great place to play and I grew up as a person and player. I played there with Ivan Baranka, Kyle Beach, Peter Mueller, Leland Irving and Alex Leavitt. I had Kevin Constantine for a coach and then John Becanic and (assistant) Jay Varady, who worked with me a lot. I had a good time there and I'm very grateful to my coaches. I just hope I can take what I learned in juniors to the next level."
The Bruins currently are loaded at center. If Boston holds onto these players, someone is going to have to move to the wing. Fortunately for Hamill, he has been successful at right wing.
"Kyle Beach and I played on the same line usually," Hamill said. "I usually played center and he was on the wing, but either of us could play either position. In the long run, we were competing for a spot but we were both versatile and that was a huge help for both of us. Dan Gendur played on the other wing and led the team in scoring last year. That was a good experience and we were very happy playing with him."
NHL scouts describe Hamill as an intelligent player with good vision and stickhandling ability who excels on specialty teams. He sees the ice well and sets up his teammates with good passes.
"I think my hockey sense and the way I think the game is my greatest asset," Hamill said. "I try to be a smart player. I have pretty good playmaking skills and I like handling the puck. I'm always trying to think at a higher level, trying to know what is going to happen before it happens. You always want to keep in mind that thinking at a higher level helps you get better and get ready for the next level."
Hamill grew up in Port Coquitlam, British Columbia, admiring and emulating Joe Sakic. Port Coquitlam is just a few miles east of Sakic's hometown of Burnaby, adjacent to Vancouver.
|Zach Hamill played in 16 combined regular season and playoff games for the AHL's Providence Bruins last season, contributing a goal and eight assists.|
If Hamill wants a career that begins to approach Sakic's achievements, the 5-foot-11, 190-pounder needs to continue getting bigger and stronger.
"Everyone can improve by getting bigger, faster and stronger," Hamill said. "I'm always working on that for at least the past five or six years. It's coming slowly. Right now, I'm trying to improve my explosive speed and power and I'll take that work into training camp.
"The scouts and coaching staff around here give you things to work on. Everyone knows your strengths and weaknesses and everyone wants to get better."
"Zach is another guy who will benefit from a summer strength program," Sweeney said. "He came up last spring with the intention of proving something. He played a few regular-season games and then stepped right into a playoff environment and did well. He will admit, however, that the players were bigger, stronger and faster and now he has to step up his training program to be able to handle that."
Hamill did well at the Bruins' prospect camp and eagerly is anticipating training camp in September. While he'll likely start the year in Providence, the Bruins want to see continued, rapid development.
"Prospects camp was fun," said Hamill. "I got there on a Monday and went through some fitness testing and then some ice sessions. I started getting comfortable with the other players and then toward the end of the week, Cam Neely led the drills and they were hard work.
"But seeing an NHL Hall of Famer here teaching, that was really something. Obviously, you're going to listen to him because he knows not only what it takes to succeed in the NHL but also what it takes to be a Hall of Fame player."