BOSTON — Zdeno Chara isn’t going to be the Bruins’ No. 1 defenseman forever.
Luckily for head coach Claude Julien and his staff, Dougie Hamilton showed during the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs that he’s capable of being the leader of the blue line in the future as he develops his two-way skill set and continues to earn more experience.
Hamilton played his best hockey of the season in the Bruins’ playoff run, which ended with a Game 7 loss to the Montreal Canadiens in the conference semifinals. He finished second among Boston blueliners in postseason scoring with seven points (two goals, five assists) in 12 games and played well defensively on the top pairing alongside Chara.
“I thought it was a real coming out for Dougie,” Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli said Friday during the team’s break-up day at TD Garden. “He made mistakes, don’t get me wrong. But I think he had, by the end, a real good playoff. You saw confidence, you saw something that (Julien) has been working on, the defending. And he still has areas to improve on there, but he is really defending with more strength. He’s always been good with the puck, but he had a real solid playoff.”
Hamilton is a tremendous skater with a high hockey IQ, good playmaking skills and a powerful shot from the point. He’s the kind of puck-moving defenseman that teams around the league highly covet. Hamilton’s impact on the power play was one of the primary reasons for Boston having the third most successful power play during the regular season. His ability to skate the blue line to open up shooting lanes and get pucks on net is extremely valuable with the extra skater.
Hamilton’s puck-handling also makes a positive impact on Boston’s ability to maintain possession. His 56.3 corsi-for percentage (puck-possession stat) was the fourth-best on the team during the regular season, and the B’s averaged 3.6 percent more shots when Hamilton was on the ice. He improved those numbers to 57.1 percent and 4.7 percent, respectively, in the playoffs.
From a defensive standpoint, Hamilton has improved by leaps and bounds from last season. He won many of the puck battles that he lost last season because of his increased strength, confidence and experience. He played physical, didn’t take a lot of penalties and played a smart, simple game in his own end. He looks so much more poised with the puck and is able to skate out of trouble without turning the puck over.
“I’m happy with where I’m at now compared to the start of the year,” Hamilton said. “I’m satisfied with myself heading into the summer with where I finished at…For me (I need to) just keep working on my skills, skating, shooting, stick handling, all the things I’ve done over the last few years.”
At just 20 years old, Hamilton has a bright future ahead of him. He’s already been given top-pairing minutes in the playoffs and handled it well. When the former first-round draft pick becomes a stronger and more experienced player over the next few years, it wouldn’t be surprising if he’s a Norris Trophy candidate on a consistent basis.
Hamilton has all the skills needed to be a two-way, cornerstone defenseman for over a decade.