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Wednesday Night Rivalry: DeKeyser vs. Hamilton

Wednesday, 04.02.2014 / 2:00 AM / NHL Insider

By Adam Kimelman - NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor

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Wednesday Night Rivalry: DeKeyser vs. Hamilton
In their second NHL seasons, defensemen Danny DeKeyser of the Detroit Red Wings and Dougie Hamilton of the Boston Bruins have become key cogs for teams with Stanley Cup aspirations. As their teams meet on NBCSN's Wednesday Night Rivalry, who's further along?

To help celebrate NBC Rivalry Night, NHL.com will look at a rivalry within the rivalry of the featured game on Wednesday nights. For this week, we are trying to determine which defenseman is on the best path to becoming a franchise player, Danny DeKeyser of the Detroit Red Wings or Dougie Hamilton of the Boston Bruins.

In their second NHL seasons, defensemen Danny DeKeyser of the Detroit Red Wings and Dougie Hamilton of the Boston Bruins have become key cogs for teams with Stanley Cup aspirations.

How they got to this point, however, is starkly different.

DeKeyser, a Detroit native, was an undrafted free agent who developed into a collegiate star in three seasons at Western Michigan University, and the Red Wings won a bidding war to sign him March 29, 2013.

Hamilton, a Toronto native, was a star for the Niagara IceDogs of the Ontario Hockey League when the Bruins selected him with the ninth pick of the 2011 NHL Draft.

Each has experienced the highs and lows that come with being a young defenseman in the NHL. They'll be able to test how far each other has come when they go head-to-head in this week's Wednesday Night Rivalry game (8 p.m. ET, NBCSN, TSN2, RDS).

And as the playoffs approach, which player is better equipped to make the jump from good to elite? NBC Sports analyst Pierre McGuire, who has seen both players up close from his perch between the boards on NBC Sports' telecast, offered his opinion.

DET

Danny DeKeyser
2013-14 stats
G-A-P: 4-16-20
PIM: 28
+/-: 8

Dougie
Hamilton

2013-14 stats
G-A-P: 7-18-25
PIM: 38
+/-: 23

BOS

At age 18 in 2008-09, his initial season of eligibility for the NHL draft, DeKeyser played for the Trail Smoke Eaters in the British Columbia Hockey League. He had a solid season with eight goals and 25 points in 58 games, but got no attention from NHL teams. He moved closer to home the following season to play for the Sioux City Musketeers of the United States Hockey League, but after posting 11 points in 41 games he again went unselected.

DeKeyser began to blossom when he arrived at Western Michigan for the 2010-11 season. In 42 games as a freshman he had five goals, 12 assists and a plus-14 rating, and was named to the Central Collegiate Hockey Association All-Rookie Team.

The following season he had 17 points and a plus-15 rating in 41 games, led WMU to a conference title and was named the conference's best defensive defenseman.

He had 15 points in 35 games as team captain in 2012-13, and again was named the conference's best defensive defenseman. As the season neared its conclusion DeKeyser emerged as the most sought-after collegiate free agent.

"The year before Detroit signed him there was a steady stream of NHL executives going to Kalamazoo [Mich.] to watch him play," McGuire told NHL.com. "I think one of the things that really helped Danny was being in a pro environment and being coached by a real good coach in Andy Murray. Andy Murray helped him a ton in terms of his growth and his ability to play as a pro."

DeKeyser signed with his hometown Red Wings after his college season ended and immediately fit into the lineup. He had one assist and a plus-4 rating in 11 games while averaging 18:02 of ice time. His time in the NHL was ended by a broken thumb sustained late in the regular season, but he returned to help the Red Wings' American Hockey League team, the Grand Rapids Griffins, win the Calder Cup.

Now 24 and a fully grown 6-foot-3 and 190 pounds, DeKeyser has continued to develop into a prime player on the Red Wings' blue line. In 59 games (he missed a month early in the season with a shoulder injury) he's second among Detroit defensemen with four goals and 20 points. He's also a plus-8 while averaging 21:37 of ice time per game, second on the team.

"He's so smooth and silky," McGuire said. "He's got great composure with the puck. He needs to continue to evolve in terms of his strength and shooting the puck harder, but man oh man is he composed under fire, and he's not intimidated by big situations. There is a quiet composure to his game where even if it doesn't go right he doesn't get rattled. He's mature. He's a man in the League even though he's only in his second year."

Niagara selected Hamilton in the second round of the 2009 OHL draft, and at age 16 in 2009-10 he had three goals and 16 points in 64 games, and also helped Ontario win the silver medal at the 2010 Under-17 World Hockey Challenge. He capped his season with a spot on the OHL Second All-Rookie Team.

Hamilton was on every team's watch list heading into the 2010-11 season and didn't disappoint. He had 12 goals in 67 games, and was fourth among OHL defensemen with 58 points. In its final rankings, NHL Central Scouting rated him the No. 1 North American defenseman available for the 2011 draft. Off the ice he was named the Canadian Hockey League's top scholastic player.

The Bruins, weeks after winning the Stanley Cup, selected Hamilton with their first pick.

The Bruins returned Hamilton to Niagara in 2011-12 for another season of development. He responded with 17 goals in 50 games. His 72 points were tops among all OHL defensemen and he was named the best defenseman in the CHL. He also helped Canada win a bronze medal at the 2012 IIHF World Junior Championship; his six points in six games led all defensemen at the tournament.

Hamilton started the 2012-13 season in Niagara. He had 41 points in 32 games while also representing Canada at the 2013 WJC. When NHL training camps opened following the work stoppage, Hamilton earned a spot on the Bruins' opening-night roster. He had five goals, 11 assists and a plus-4 rating in 42 games while averaging 17:07 of ice time per game. He also had three assists in seven Stanley Cup Playoff games.

Now 20 years old and an impressive 6-foot-5 and 212 pounds, Hamilton has raised his production across the board this season. In 57 games he has seven goals, 25 points and a plus-25 rating while averaging 18:59 of ice time per game.

"The physical growth from last year to this year, it's been amazing," McGuire said. "His ability to dominate people 1-on-1 in the corner, which wasn't there last year, is there this year. He's shooting the puck much harder than he did a year ago and that's made a big difference for the Bruins in terms of second-chance opportunities. One of the things that makes the Bruins so difficult to play against is the back-end bombers like Zdeno Chara, Johnny Boychuk, Dougie Hamilton, Torey Krug. They all can absolutely wire the puck. … Hamilton has really added that to his repertoire, the ability to blast the puck."

What's also helped Hamilton has been being exposed to so many smart, solid veterans in Boston, especially Chara.

"I think being around Zdeno Chara, and being as big as Dougie is, I think he's learned so much from Zdeno and it's helped him a ton," McGuire said.

Verdict: By virtue of his age, DeKeyser is the more well-rounded player now. That's not to say Hamilton isn't showing the full scope of his skills at his age.

McGuire, who has seen both players on numerous occasions, thanks in part to his perch between the boards for NBC Sports' telecasts, can make the case for either player emerging as a star. For now, though, he believes the race is too close to call.

"Danny is older … so it's not really a fair question because let's see when Hamilton is DeKeyser's age compared to where DeKeyser is now," McGuire said. "I would say DeKeyser is more mature, which makes sense. Hamilton is more developed then people think, so maybe that gives him a little bit of an advantage."

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