Patience With Young Center Zach Hamill Could Benefit Bruins in Long Run

Patience With Young Center Zach Hamill Could Benefit Bruins in Long Run NESN.com is taking a look at the top 10 prospects in the Boston Bruins' system. No. 8 is Zach Hamill.

No. 8: Zach Hamill
Position: Center
Age: 21 (turns 22 on Sept. 23)
Height: 5-foot-11
Weight: 173 pounds
Shoots: Right
Acquired: 2007 draft, first round (8th overall)
2009-10 stats: Providence (AHL) – 75 games, 14-30-44, even, 24 PIMs; Boston (NHL) – 1 game, 0-1-1, plus-1, 0 PIMs

Analysis: Since being drafted as a top 10 pick in 2007, Hamill has struggled to live up to expectations as he’s made the transition to the pro game. He tried to play through a thumb injury in his first full season in Providence in 2008-09, which may have been commendable for the toughness it displayed, but also likely hurt his overall development as his confidence suffered with the corresponding lack of production that season. He took some strides forward last year, but he still hasn’t put it all together the way the Bruins envisioned when they drafted him. He does possess excellent vision and good hockey sense, but lacks size and strength and while not slow, he doesn’t have enough speed to compensate for that weakness. He still needs to add bulk and strength to better compete at the pro level.

Notable: Led the WHL in scoring with 93 points in his draft year, but had just 75 points the following season in his final year with the Everett Silvertips. … Managed just 26 points in his first pro season in Providence, but increased that to 44 last year. … Had an impressive showing in his NHL debut in the Bruins’ regular-season finale at Washington on April 11, as he picked up an assist on a Michael Ryder goal and played a strong all-around game. … Also played well in the preseason last year, scoring a pair of goals in six games and was among the final cuts the team made. … Stayed up with Boston in the playoffs, serving as a Black Ace. … Scored 120 goals and 203 points in just 61 games for the Port Coquitlam Pirates, his midget team in 2002-03.

Quotable: “I thought Zach played a very good game,” said Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli after Hamill’s NHL debut in April. “He picked up the pace of his game, which good players do when they’re promoted. He made a lot of good plays. I thought he battled.  I still think he can be stronger defensively on one-on-one battles down low, but his skill is indisputable, as is his vision and hockey sense. I think you saw that the way he moved the puck on the power play, the way he made one-touch passes. I was happy with his game. He’s got work to do still, but I was happy the way he elevated his play at that level.”

“I see a huge improvement in his act from last year to this year,” said Bruins coach Claude Julien of Hamill during last year’s training camp. “It’s night and day with him and some guys take a little longer than others, and he’s one of those guys that you have to be a little more patient with because he needed to get stronger, but those are the type of guys that teach you lessons, as far as giving up on young kids too early. There are a lot of guys that sometimes they come in here and you don’t really like what you see as much as others, but at the same time you take a look at their age and you take a look at the experience they have and you’ve got to tell yourself this is where you got to be patient, give them a chance to learn, and a lot of those guys end up paying off at the end.”

2010-11 Outlook: Hamill made a run at a roster spot last year and will be looking to do the same in this camp, but he’s facing some long odds. The Bruins are incredibly deep at center, and while fellow prospects Tyler Seguin and Joe Colborne are capable of shifting to wing, Hamill is a playmaker who really needs to stay in the middle. If the numbers game wasn’t daunting enough, Hamill also carries a hefty cap hit of just over $1.3 million (including bonuses), which will be tough for the cap-challenged Bruins to find room for. He is in the final year of that entry-level deal, so this is a huge season for him to prove he has the potential to make an impact at the next level. Hamill did show some signs of progress last year, but he still has a long way to go. The fact that he was taken eighth overall in the draft three years ago and is now ranked just eighth among Bruins prospects is telling. Still, there is talent here, and the Bruins would be wise to remain patient and see if Hamill can finally put it all together.

NESN.com will count down our Preseason Top 10 Bruins Prospects with one profiled each day.

Friday, Sept. 3: The No. 9 prospect, center Max Sauve.

Sunday, Sept. 5: The No. 7 Bruins prospect is unveiled.