BOSTON -- Dougie Hamilton has played Stanley Cup Playoff games at TD Garden, just not like this.
The Carolina Hurricanes defenseman never imagined he would do so in the red and black of his current team. He thought it would only be in the black and gold of the Boston Bruins, who drafted him and will face Carolina in the best-of-7 Eastern Conference Final beginning here Thursday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS).
"When I got drafted and stuff, I wanted to be a Bruin for life," said Hamilton, who was selected No. 9 in the 2011 NHL Draft. "That was kind of what everyone wants to do."
[RELATED: Complete Bruins vs. Hurricanes series coverage]
It wasn't to be. Hamilton was due to be a restricted free agent for the first time when Boston traded him to the Calgary Flames for three draft picks on June 26, 2015.
Four days later, Hamilton signed a six-year contract with the Flames, believing he could establish roots in Western Canada. But three years later, he was traded again, this time with forward Micheal Ferland and defenseman prospect Adam Fox to Carolina for defenseman Noah Hanifin and forward Elias Lindholm on June 23.
"For me, this is the way my journey has kind of taken me, and I am pretty happy with the way everything has gone and the experiences I have been able to go through, and to learn and grow and see different things," said Hamilton, who is in his first conference final. "It's been good."
It's been very good for the Hurricanes. Hamilton led Carolina defensemen in goals (18) and points (39) this season. Morgan Rielly of the Toronto Maple Leafs was the only defenseman in the NHL with more goals (20) than Hamilton this season.
Video: WSH@CAR, Gm3: Hamilton hammers shot for second PPG
The 25-year-old has seven points (three goals, four assists) in 11 postseason games.
"Well he provided a punch on the back end that we needed in the scoring department, offensive department," coach Rod Brind'Amour said. "You know, I think our [defense] already was the strength of our team, but we added him so that kind of even made it a little more boost, especially offensively, which as we all know, scoring goals in this League, it's what it's all about. He definitely has helped in that department."
There were struggles at the start, though. It took 10 games for Hamilton to score his first goal, and he had 10 points (three goals, seven assists) in his first 38 games.
But over his final 44 games, he had 29 points (15 goals, 14 assists). Not coincidentally, the Hurricanes went 30-12-2 in that span to finish as the first wild card from the Eastern Conference.
Hamilton's shot-attempt percentage at 5-on-5 (57.64) was third among NHL defensemen who played at least 20 games this season, behind Jon Merrill of the Vegas Golden Knights and Erik Karlsson of the San Jose Sharks (59.20 each), and his plus-434 shot differential at 5-on-5 was the best in the NHL.
The Hurricanes expected much of what they have gotten from Hamilton, but not all of it. A player of his caliber who is traded twice so early in his NHL career often comes with questions. Carolina general manager Don Waddell acknowledged as much Wednesday when he said he did a lot of homework on Hamilton before making the trade.
"You start on the ice and what he brings there," Waddell said of Hamilton, who is in his seventh NHL season. "The offensive ability, his analytics are off the charts. We all know Dougie is a quieter guy. Probably not the most outspoken person in the locker room, but he is certainly a good teammate.
"Dougie has been great with our young players. He has built relationships with our young players and he has taken some of these guys under his wing. We knew Dougie was going to add offense to our club and score goals and do that, but we also knew he would be a positive influence in the locker room."
Video: BOS@CAR: Hamilton scores PPG off the draw
Hamilton can barely recall arriving in Boston as a rookie in 2012-13 and learning from veterans he will face in this series, including center Patrice Bergeron and defenseman Zdeno Chara. The Bruins reached the Stanley Cup Final that season, losing to the Chicago Blackhawks in six games.
"It does move fast," he said. "It's a whirlwind, but it does feel like a long time ago. Being on two different teams now after, I've been through a lot, seen a lot of different faces and situations and stuff, so it does feel like a while ago."
He knows the Hurricanes figure to hear boos and barbs at TD Garden and that such noise might be louder and more pointed when directed at him. Not that this bothers him.
"I've been through it and I'm not too worried about that," Hamilton said. "If they still care about me that much, I think it is a compliment to me."
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