Seen here toying with Markus Granlund at the World Junior Championships last year, Dougie Hamilton is set to make the Bruins out of camp this season, but don't expect a superstar right away.
Clamor on Causeway is a weekly column that will appear every Sunday night throughout the year. It will address some of the most frequently discussed topics and issues surrounding the Bruins.
Assuming the owners, Donald Fehr and everyone else set to argue in a boardroom two days from now figure everything out, there will be an NHL season in 2012-13. I understand the the fear, the uncertainty and the doubt, but smarter people than I have given assurances it'll get straightened out. Even if they're being too optimistic themselves, I'm moving forward as though everything will be OK. The thought of another lockout really is just too much for me to bear. That said, let's talk about Dougie Hamilton.
The Bruins' first round draft pick from a year ago did exactly what was expected of him in Niagara last season - which is to say, he absolutely dominated the world's most talent-rich amateur league. In 87 combined regular season and playoff games, Hamilton scored 23 goals, assisted on 73 more and generally ruled the right side of the ice for about 25 minutes a night. Not a bad way to follow up a top 10 overall selection in the draft.
Even before his successful final year in the OHL, Bruins fans had anointed him the next Zdeno Chara and pictured his No. 27 casually hanging above the Garden ice someday. Everything we know about Hamilton is good and gets better almost every time he skates in anything resembling a meaningful competition.
At this point, slotting him just below Adam McQuaid as the Bruins' No. 6 defenseman seems like the smart move with the whole "earning his place" thing as a formality. Hamilton will make the team out of camp, and he's sure to impress all of us along the way.
Be fair to the kid, though, he's going to mix in a few dreadful breakdowns and blown assignments at some point. He's 19, and the roles he's been penciled into before training camp aren't easy to fill, especially in Boston.
Since Wideman's Folly in 2009-10, the Bruins have tried to fill the role of, yes, Puck-Moving Defenseman, with Tomas Kaberle, Steve Kampfer, Joe Corvo and others at different times. Kaberle and Corvo weren't the disasters most fans thought they were, but, no, they weren't particularly effective either. Their failures most noticeably came on a power play that just hasn't been very good. Hamilton stepping into that role may be an improvement, eventually, but it also might not be too pretty at first.
Backhand Shelf's Cam Charron put together a pretty good analysis of the plight of defensemen selected in the first round earlier this summer. More or less, Charron's point was that forwards are the safer bets since they have higher ceilings, and defensemen's numbers often lie at the amateur levels because their coaches use them so effectively. Essentially, Hamilton's learning curve is greater even than Tyler Seguin's was two seasons ago, because it's more difficult to succeed solely on talent as a defenseman in the NHL than in juniors.
What makes Hamilton's life a bit easier is the team he landed on despite going in the top 10. Last summer, the Bruins paired Hamilton with Chara in camp, and the prospect prattled on and on about the joy of playing alongside the Bruins' captain. He said all the right things about learning and watching and listening to the Norris trophy winner. Juxtaposed with a defenseman like Ryan Murray who draws the unenviable task of becoming a premier defenseman while playing for a team assembled by Scott Howson, Hamilton's projected path to stardom appears paved a little better than that of Murray and some other defensemen selected in the top 10.
Should Claude Julien and the Bruins' coaching staff decide Hamilton belongs next to Chara for the regular season, we're certain to see some pretty special shifts. Don't be surprised, though, to see Chara barking at Hamilton the first few times he gets caught up ice or stands idly by while an opposing forward jams home a rebound. Even if Hamilton's primary partner is Andrew Ference or Dennis Seidenberg, expect the same balance of stellar displays and bonehead moments from the rookie.
The pressure placed on players selected where Hamilton went can be difficult to deal with at times. More than anything, the success of obviously talented players relies on the way their teams' management staffs - both in the front office and on the bench - opt to use them. The second the season begins, Hamilton will be compared to Chara. He'll hear names like Orr and Bourque, and it won't be fair, but he'll be uniquely well positioned to deal with those things since no one will - or should - expect that in his first year.
For the last three seasons, we've all heard things about the Bruins' "intangibles." This team is "good in the room" and they qualify for the application of just about every other hockey cliche used to described a team that wins with defense and hangs out together on their off days. As overrated as these ideas are, they're important to an extent, and Hamilton's development will be the latest beneficiary. Give him a couple seasons before you start screaming "shoot" every time he handles the puck on the power play, though. He's 19, and the NHL is pretty good at highlighting the shortcomings of young defenseman - no matter who they're compared to in juniors.