But only one of them is expected to make that leap this season.
Dougie Hamilton turned 19 less than two weeks ago, but the ninth overall pick of the 2011 draft has already been penciled into the Bruins lineup for the upcoming season. Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli began floating the notion that Hamilton would be ready to make the jump to the NHL this year as far back as December when Hamilton was signed to his entry-level deal.
With Hamilton repaying that faith with a breakthrough season with the Niagara IceDogs of the Ontario Hockey League, the expectations only rose for the young blueliner, who even managed to add another inch to his impressive frame as he now checks in at 6-foot-5, 193 pounds.
Such high expectations can put a lot of pressure on a youngster, but Hamilton appears unfazed by the extra attention.
“I think it’s more excitement than anything when the GM of the team is saying those kinds of things,” Hamilton said after Friday’s double session, which included a grueling power-skating workshop. “It kind of puts a smile on my face and makes me want to work harder to have that opportunity.
“I think the only pressure is what I’m putting on myself to get better,” Hamilton added. “I think it’s a great opportunity. I’m trying to work as hard as I can to get better to be able to fulfill that.”
The hard work paid off this past season. Hamilton put up career-highs across the board with the IceDogs, posting 17-55-72 totals in just 50 games, then adding 5-18-23 totals in 20 postseason contests. He was named the defenseman of the year for both the OHL and the Canadian Hockey League, the collective at the top level of junior hockey in Canada that includes the OHL, Western Hockey League and Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.
“I think I’ve gotten better at everything,” Hamilton said. “Obviously I’m a little bigger and stronger, and I think more skilled as well. I think going to [Bruins training] camp and playing with the guys and going back to the OHL with that extra confidence helped a lot. The same with [playing in] the World Juniors. Any time you can get that confidence I think it helps your game.”
The Bruins certainly took notice of Hamilton’s progress, and Chiarelli hasn’t backed off his expectations for Hamilton making the club this season.
“I think I’ve been clear over the last little bit that Dougie Hamilton is really close,” Chiarelli said between Friday’s sessions. “So I’m going to get him an opportunity along with some other players, we saw Torey Krug play, and I’m going to give them an opportunity to make the team.”
Krug played a pair of games in Boston and even chipped in an assist when he joined the Bruins late last season after being signed following the conclusion of his junior season at Michigan State. Krug has already made his NHL debut and should be in the mix for the seventh defenseman spot in Boston this fall, but Hamilton is expected to jump right into the top six.
“I mean Dougie had a really, really good year, there’s no question that he was a dominant player at that level,” Bruins assistant GM Don Sweeney said. “I think he went back and worked on a lot of things that we addressed with him in terms of rounding out his game and decision-making and he’s such an athletic player to begin with that size and how he moves. But I think overall he just became a dominant player at that level and he’s ready for the next step, the next challenge and hopefully he continues to progress because that position is not the easiest thing in the world to learn at the NHL level, but we’re hopeful that he can come in and establish himself.”
Hamilton has already begun asserting himself, sliding naturally into a leadership position in his second development camp.
“Last year I went in just trying to make a good first impression,” Hamilton said. “This year it’s a little different. This year I think maybe I’m expected to be more pro-ready and I’m just trying to do my best.”
Hamilton’s best has put him on the fast track to the NHL, but he knows he hasn’t made it yet.
“Obviously that’s my goal, but it’s the Bruins’ decision,” Hamilton said.
In the year since they’ve drafted him, Hamilton has given every indication that he’s going to make adding him to the Boston blue line as soon as possible an easy decision.
Photo via Facebook/Dougie Hamilton
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