There’s only one way it could have gone better: If the Bruins, of course, had managed to advance past the Montreal Canadiens in the second round of the playoffs.
Still, during the postseason, Hamilton managed to elevate his game to perhaps its highest level of the year — possibly even the highest level of his young career. The 21-year-old defenseman finished the playoffs with two goals and five assists for seven points in 12 games, serving on the Bruins’ top pairing alongside Zdeno Chara. This came on the heels of his first full NHL season, during which he compiled 25 points (seven goals, 18 assists) with a plus-22 rating in 64 games.
By all accounts, it was a successful initial campaign, but as of right now, last year is in the past, and therefore, Hamilton is done reflecting on it.
“It doesn’t really mean anything to me now,” Hamilton said after joining Boston’s informal skate at Ristuccia Arena on Friday morning. “I think I was happy with how I played [in the playoffs] and obviously wish we could have played longer and all that. But it doesn’t mean anything now. I already forgot about that, and I’m just focusing on this season.”
The one thing Hamilton will ignore, however, is the self-assurance he gained over the course of Boston’s 12 postseason games in 2013-14.
“[I want to] just to build on the confidence that I can play at that level, and really help the team and everything like that,” Hamilton said. “That’s what I want to do. So just for me, I want to keep doing that and get back to that same level, and try to improve on it.”
Hamilton may not be a veteran quite yet, but to designate him with the “inexperienced” label would, at this point, be unfair. He has been through the grind and the wear and tear of a full NHL season. He saw postseason triumph in the first round versus Detroit, and postseason heartbreak in the second round versus Montreal. From his first game of the season to his last, he continued to grow, to improve and to impress his coaches and the Bruins brass.
Now, with another training camp right around the corner, it’s all about taking that up another notch.
“I tried to get stronger and on the ice, just improve my skating and shot and hands and everything like that,” Hamilton said. “So I think I had a good summer, and obviously a lot of time to improve. So I think I have improved, and I’m excited to kind of see how I sit now, compared to how I was last year.”
In the process of getting stronger, Hamilton seems to have added a bit of bulk to his 6-foot-5 frame — “I think I am stronger, and gained a little bit but not a huge amount,” he said — and as a result, he enters camp in prime shape to start the year off the right way. To him, that is just as much a part of the job as working on his shot.
“I think now, you have to come in [your] best shape, and everyone obviously is in really good shape,” he said. “So kind of hold yourself accountable and hold each other accountable to work hard over the summer and show up in shape.”
Though the Bruins did bid farewell to some key players over the summer, the current makeup of the team looks very similar to the way it looked on breakup day in May. Still, Hamilton is well aware that there could be some moving pieces between now and the start of the season, but he is doing his best not to focus on that.
“It’s a weird situation,” Hamilton said. “I think with guys kind of maybe thinking they were going to get traded in the summer and they’re still here, or guys not here yet or whatever, I guess it’s a little bit weird. [I] just try not to focus on that stuff and just play. It’s out of our control. Just play and do your best and not think about it.”
Instead, Hamilton chooses to focus on what, to his eyes, looks like a team that can compete for a Stanley Cup championship for many years to come. With core players such as David Krejci, Tuukka Rask and Patrice Bergeron locked up for the foreseeable future, Hamilton is confident that this team has what it takes to stay dominant.
“I think every year, we have a chance to win with our team and with the players we have and with Tuukka and everything like that,” he said. “I think every year we should be a contender. So I don’t know if the window is closing or anything like that — I don’t think it is — but I think that makes it exciting to be here.
“I think every year, you can be a winning team. It’s a good situation. Like I said before, you can’t take anything for granted and we have to work hard and play the system and everything. Hopefully we do well again in the season, and better in the playoffs.”