Skip to main content

Healthy defense means competition for Hamilton

by Adam Kimelman / NHL.com

PHILADELPHIA -- The Boston Bruins go into their game Tuesday at the Philadelphia Flyers (7:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN, TSN) with a rare commodity: a surplus of healthy defensemen.

Bruins coach Claude Julien said defenseman Adam McQuaid, who sat out the game Sunday against the Florida Panthers with a lower-body injury, is healthy and available to play.

"He's ready to go in," Julien said. "He's healthy, so he may be an addition [Tuesday]."

That gives the Bruins nine healthy blueliners for Julien to choose from as the Bruins close the regular season with four games in seven days.

"I think it's a good problem to have, when you have that much depth going into the playoffs," defenseman Zdeno Chara told NHL.com.

Dougie Hamilton may find it difficult to crack a veteran-laden lineup when the playoffs begin. (Photo: Getty Images)

Julien said, "We've done this purposely so we can have some depth. We've had some issues in the past where we got thin quickly with some injuries. We're trying to stay away from that."

Boston appears to have five defensemen locked into regular roles heading into the Stanley Cup Playoffs: Chara, Dennis Seidenberg, Johnny Boychuk, Andrew Ference and McQuaid. That leaves four players auditioning for the final spot: Dougie Hamilton, Wade Redden, Matt Bartkowski and Aaron Johnson.

Of that group, Hamilton has the brightest future. The ninth pick of the 2011 NHL Draft, the 19-year-old rookie has five goals, 11 assists and a plus-6 rating in an average of 17:06 of ice time in 41 games.

"I'm pretty happy with how I've gotten better and how I've done this year so far," Hamilton told NHL.com. "I think it's been a lot of fun and I've learned a lot. I've gotten a lot better. I think it's been good for me."

However, after playing the first 39 games, he's been a healthy scratch three of the past five, and could find himself off the ice again Tuesday.

Julien said the time off for Hamilton has been more about rest than a drop-off in play. In addition to the 41 NHL games he's played, Hamilton skated in 32 games with his junior team, the Niagara IceDogs of the Ontario Hockey League, plus six for Canada at the 2013 IIHF World Junior Championship.

"He's the guy that's played the most on this team when you consider all the junior stuff he had to do before [the NHL season]," Julien said. "His junior team, the tryout with the Canada-Russia series [in August], the World Junior Championship, this schedule with the NHL, so he definitely needed some rest."

Hamilton said watching the game from a different angle -- as well as the rest -- has him feeling good as he heads toward his first experience with the NHL playoffs.

"I think, definitely, it looks a lot easier watching from the press box," Hamilton told NHL.com. "It looks like you got a lot more time and space. You can see the game a lot easier. I think just to get some rest and be able to see that and watch certain players and systems like that, I think it's helped me."

Beyond the numbers, Hamilton's play has been impressive to a number of people within the organization.

"He's done a terrific job," Chara said. "As a new guy coming into the team, he's been filling his role. … Everybody is extremely pleased at how he's performed. He's going to continue to grow as a player and keep maturing as a man. It's great to watch him make those steps."

Julien said, "He's progressed immensely with us. He's been a real good player to me. He's a very coachable individual. He moves the puck well, sees the ice well. Right now it's been an opportunity in this short span to learn a lot about the pro game. One of the issues is how strong the players he's playing against are compared to what he was used to."

Hamilton admitted he's still learning the ins and outs of the game at the NHL level.

"It's a different game here," he said. "I think everything is different. Just learning that and getting comfortable. I think I spent a lot of time learning my [defensive] zone and the system and things like that. I think that I've gotten a lot better at that. Just trying to learn and make sure that whenever they put me on the ice they can trust me."

Physical strength -- Hamilton has 199 pounds on his 6-foot-5 frame -- is one thing working against him. Mental strength to go through the postseason could be another. Redden, a 16-season pro, has 101 games of playoff experience. Bartkowski, 24, has shuttled between the American Hockey League and the NHL, playing 20 games the past three seasons. Johnson, a journeyman, has played 291 NHL games with six different teams.

So Hamilton has a lot of competition for the final spot, but he's hoping to make a solid final audition.

"Every game you want to play your best," he said. "I think you want to be accountable and not be a liability. I think lately I've tried to be doing that. I think just finish off strong here and see what happens in the playoffs."

---

View More