The thousands on-hand watching the Boston Bruins’ comeback victory over the New York Islanders Friday began to chant a young defenseman’s name as time wound-down in the third. Four games into his career, Dougie Hamilton earned hockey’s version of the curtain-call thanks to a dynamic two-point performance.
“Dougie! Dougie! Dougie!”
The B’s won three of their first four matches, taking seven of eight points and jumping out to first place in the Northeast. While others have contributed significantly – there’s no doubt that the nineteen year-old is already an impact player.
In early shows of praise, Boston’s clubhouse leaders have already spoken glowingly about the NHL’s youngest defenseman.
Captain Zdeno Chara told the Toronto Sun that Hamilton has all the tools to develop into a perennial Norris candidate. After their overtime loss to the Rangers, Boston Head Coach Claude Julien described Hamilton’s game as “Outstanding,” telling reporters that, “… he’s so poised and confident – and if anybody thinks he can’t play in this league, they should just take some time to watch [Wednesday's game].”
Currently, the Boston Bruins scoring leadership finds itself split between five skaters with three points: Forwards Milan Lucic, David Krejci, Brad Marchand, Gregory Campbell – and one rookie defenseman, Dougie Hamilton.
Now while his numbers (three points in four games) aren’t world-beating, coupled with solid powerplay performances (tallying his first career point while helping the Bruins snap an 0-for-the-season with the man advantage last Wednesday), excellent displays of puck-moving prowess and a much stronger defensive performance than anticipated; there’s ample reason for the considerable buzz in Boston.
In addition to obvious signs of his production, Hamilton hasn’t been coddled by the Bruins’ coaching staff. He’s starting less than half of his shifts in the offensive zone – and finishing the majority of them on the attack.
He’s not being significantly ‘sheltered’ in terms of competition, either. While Chara and defensive partner Johnny Boychuk are the B’s top-two defensemen by Corsi Relative Quality of Competition (a weighted statistical show of opponents’ possession during the season), the pairing of Hamilton and Dennis Seidenberg have faced the next-most severe opponents thus-far.
The Six-foot-five blueliner is getting pucks through screens to the net with fantastic efficiency, leading all Bruins defensemen in shots (including perennial-leader Chara) despite averaging fifth among the blueliners in ice-time.
Throughout their history, the Boston Bruins have been blessed with talented blueliners capable of moving the puck.
While the use of the moniker Puck-Moving-Defenseman (PMD) is a fairly recent phenomenon, the B’s have a storied history of talented offensive-defensemen including Hall-of-Fame luminaries like Dit Clapper, Bobby Orr, Brad Park and Ray Bourque.
However, since Seventy-seven was sent to Denver to win his Cup, the Bruins’ blue line has boasted a revolving door for mediocre PMD’s. Among the unenviable ensemble were the likes of Jiri Slegr, Dennis Wideman, Bryan Berard, Joe Corvo, and Derek Morris… as well as underwhelming performances from aging stars like Tomas Kaberle, Paul Coffey and Brian Leetch. Captain Chara, while boasting the NHL’s most potent shot (and other O-zone talents) isn’t the dynamic transition-quarterback the team has long sought.
That decade-long train of disappointment might be coming to an end. Hamilton possesses the litany of talents required of a true PMD dynamo. Speed? Check. Vision? Check. Hands? Check. Intelligence? That’s a big check.
Of course there will be growing pains. Boston’s number twenty-seven will make mistakes… at both ends of the ice – as his struggles during the recent World Juniors demonstrate.
But fans of the Bruins have a right to be bullish. Dougie Hamilton stepped into the spotlight this past week and won’t be exiting it anytime soon.
Follow Bob Mand on Twitter at @HockeyMand