Prior to the Providence Bruinsâ game Friday, second-year center Zach Hamill was asked about his immediate future in Boston. With the P-Bruins still mathematically in the playoff hunt, did he wonder if a late-season call-up was coming? On that evening, he said no.
"I think you just want to take care of what youâve got to do down here for the rest of the season," Hamill said. "You want to take care of a lot of todays and hopefully have good tomorrows. The more you do that, the more successful you can be."
Itâs a somewhat philosophical view from Hamill, the Bruinsâ first-round pick in 2007 and eighth overall. As fate would have it, the P-Bruins took care of "today" with an exciting 3-2 comeback win in overtime against Springfield. Moments after the win, however, Providence learned that Bridgeport had disposed of Lowell, officially eliminating the P-Bruins from playoff contention for the first time since the 1997-98 campaign.
Providence took to the road on Saturday for an away game at Worcester, but the club did so without Hamill and defenseman Jeff Penner. Both were recalled to Boston after the parent Bruins beat the Hurricanes to clinch a playoff berth. The long-awaited recall was the first of Hamillâs career. And, now, on the proverbial seventh day, while others may rest, Hamill may play.
Boston takes on Washington on Sunday at noon in the teamsâ regular-season finale. The Capitals are the top team in the NHL with 120 points and an absolute offensive juggernaut. Though the Bruins already are in the postseason mix, which team they will face in the opening round remains very much undecided. Combine Hamill's possible NHL debut to the equation, and Boston's brass will be watching with added interest.
The former first-round pick and still youthful 21-year-old is coming off a career year in Providence, where he will almost assuredly finish second on the club in scoring with personal highs in goals (14), assists (30), points (44) and games played (75). Hamill got off to a slow start this season, posting only 20 points in the first three-and-a-half months of the year. But his luck changed with the arrival of a familiar face.
Providence signed John Lammers to a contract on Jan. 13 after the forward dominated the ice for the ECHLâs Alaska Aces, potting 20 goals and 35 points in only 25 games. Hamill and Lammers were linemates in juniors with Everett of the WHL in 2005-06 (Lammersâ final junior season before turning pro). The two played together in all situations — five-on-fives, power plays, penalty kills — and Lammers produced career highs in goals (38), assists (37) and points (75). Hamill broke out for 21 goals and 59 points in just 53 games, nearly doubling his point total from the season before, and doing so in fewer contests.
Needless to say, Hamill was happy to see his old fried.
He and Lammers didnât see much ice time together in the first four games of Lammersâ Providence stint. However, on Jan. 24, Hamill, Lammers and Jamie Arniel formed the starting forward trio against Springfield. The P-Bruins shut out the Falcons 3-0, Hamill had a goal and an assist to earn the gameâs second star, and Lammers was the third star.
Lammers spent the next 29 games with the P-Bruins before departing for the Abbotsford Heat. In that time, the notoriously undersized Hamill (5-foot-11, 180 pounds) registered another 19 points, including four goals and 15 assists. In the 30 outings, Hamill also put together a plus-10 rating. While the third member of Hamillâs line changed a number of times, the production was always there when Lammers was on his left side.
During Hamillâs successful stretch, P-Bruins head coach Rob Murray praised the centerâs confidence and how engaged he seemed in the games. For Murray, much of that success began with skating well.
"One of the things heâs doing is going in straight lines," Murray said of Hamill at the time. "Whenever heâs not playing his best, heâs not moving his feet, and he tries these spin-o-rama plays with no speed. Heâs stayed on the puck, and heâs made some nice plays."
The key to Hamillâs game is creating quality scoring chances, particularly when playing at even strength. Over his two-plus seasons in Providence, the native of Port Coquitlam, British Columbia, has demonstrated tremendous vision, and his playmaking abilities have benefited from seeing plays develop before they are there.
That said, Hamill is still a work in progress. Coaches in Providence would like to see the forward continue to get stronger on the puck and make a quicker first pass from time to time. Heâs shown substantial development in all of those areas over the last several months in Rhode Island, in part because of his work ethic (he regularly is one of the last guys to leave the ice from practice). Hamillâs unwavering determination and unwillingness to slack off in the effort department have put him where he is today — the Nationâs capital.
But like Bruins defenseman Johnny Boychuk, a second-round pick of Colorado who spent five seasons in the minors, Hamill may require a little more seasoning in the AHL before finding a full-time job in the NHL. Hamill understands the process and has been patient this year as the Bruins have looked to Providence for Vladimir Sobotka, Trent Whitfield and Drew Larman.
Hamill is expect to get his turn Sunday. It may be just one game, but it could go a long way for the centerâs confidence come training camp in the fall.