Facing high expectations coming into this season, Bruins rookie defenseman Dougie Hamilton got off to a great start.
An injury to fellow blueliner Dennis Seidenberg meant Hamilton got thrown into the fire immediately, as the ninth pick of the 2011 draft saw 23:27 of ice time in just his second NHL game alongside his childhood idol, Bruins captain Zdeno Chara.
The 19-year-old Hamilton didn't disappoint. In his next three games he produced four assists.
But over the next six games, Hamilton hit the typical rookie wall, failing to register a single point.
Since then, Boston coach Claude Julien has reduced Hamilton's minutes in each of the last three games. In the Bruins' 4-2 win over the Lightning on Thursday, Hamilton was down to a season-low 10:00 of ice time.
Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli made it clear that he is still very impressed with the rookie and understands this is just the normal progression of a skilled youngster in the NHL.
"Everyone forgets the questions in the summertime when if he was going to have periods where he's going to adjust and he's going through that right now," Chiarelli pointed out. "He's a 19-year old defenseman playing in the best league in the world and he's going to have these times or games where he's going to have to adjust. Maybe at times there's too big of a gap ... and he's going through that now. But he's still capable of making very good plays and defending and he does that."
Though Hamilton's minutes decreased over the last three games, it appears Julien's strategy is paying off as Hamilton's production and comfort level have progressed again.
Hamilton had a goal and an assist in the Bruins' 5-3 loss at Buffalo on Feb. 15, and then in the win at Tampa Bay, he chipped in with two helpers. Chiarelli and the Bruins are thrilled with his production and are ready to ride the rookie wave with Hamilton as the season goes on. They believe in the veteran cast surrounding Hamilton and are confident he will only learn and improve.
"I think anytime you can get a 19-year-old defenseman to play top minutes in your top four it's a bonus," Chiarelli said. "But you'd be foolish to not expect some blips along the way. So he started strong and the other pair not so strong and hopefully Dougie where he goes through these lapses and these little areas where he has some struggles within the game, hopefully the veterans he plays with can pick up his game."