It’s easy to forget that he’s only 20 and in the midst of his first full season in the league (his rookie season was shortened by the lockout). He’s still learning to harness his size, strength and ability and once it all comes together it should be an impressive package.
Bruins coach Claude Julien thought it best for Hamilton to sit as a healthy scratch for two games earlier this week against the Florida Panthers and Montreal Canadiens. He was back in the lineup Thursday and helped Boston to a 2-1 win over the Phoenix Coyotes at TD Garden.
After the game, Hamilton sat at his locker stall and discussed his playing situation. It’s understandable that he was upset for not being in the lineup as a healthy scratch, and the Bruins coaching staff would be disappointed if it didn’t bother him. But Hamilton is not the type of young player to whine about anything.
“I think that’s because he trusts us,” Julien said. “We’ve told him as a coaching staff the whole time he’s a good player and he’s going to be an even better player as we move on here. What we’ve asked him is to be patient with us because he came in here as a 19-year-old. A 19-year-old that’s on a team that’s rebuilding is going to play a ton, a 19-year-old that’s on an established team doesn’t get the same luxury, but he gets the luxury of developing in a winning environment and finding out quickly what it takes to win, so he’s in a good situation.
“I think he trusts us, I think we know what we’ve got, he knows that we know that as well and it’s just a matter of being patient and he comes in [against Phoenix] and plays a good game. He moved the puck well and he was assertive and all the little things that you talk about, you can see that effort in him. It’s trust. It’s respect and that has to happen both ways here.”
Hamilton understands the process and the veterans on the team help him, too. During his recent two-game stint as a healthy scratch, he found himself dissecting the game from press level. He’s been breaking down video with the coaching staff and learning ways to improve his game.
“I think it’s obviously a different game from up there and it’s a lot easier. Everything is slower and stuff like that so you can see things, but I think just trying to add different things to my game,” Hamilton said. “The coaches talked to me and told me certain things to add and I think there’s been things all year that I’ve been working on and trying to improve. And I think I just have to keep adding more and keep getting ready so I can play in the playoffs.”
Last season was not the typical rookie season for Hamilton. Due to the NHL work stoppage, Hamilton remained with his junior team until labor dispute was settled and the 48-game, lockout-shortened season began in January. It was a crash course for Hamilton, then 19. He played 42 regular-season games and seven in the playoffs.
This season he’s played 47 games and has played well. He’s shown improvements in every aspect and the experience from a year ago has paid dividends.
“I think I’m more used to it now. Obviously it’s not fun not playing but I think I got to learn a lot last year through that whole playoff run and know more what to expect and what’s expected of me,” he said. “So just trying to get my game to a trustworthy playoff game in this last month or so, and hopefully I can do that and earn a spot.”
With less than 20 games remaining in the regular season, and a postseason berth imminent, Julien has time to figure out his pairings for the playoffs. Since Dennis Seidenberg is lost for the season due to a knee injury, Julien losses some of the defensive consistency that has helped the Bruins reach the Stanley Cup finals twice in three years.
When general manager Peter Chiarelli added veteran defensemen Andrej Meszaros and Corey Potter at the trade deadline, the team’s blue line regained some depth. It gives Julien options. Until puck drops for the Stanley Cup playoffs, it will be a tryout of sorts to figure out what pairs work best.
Hamilton said he understands the coach’s philosophy. Since Hamilton was back in the lineup Thursday, fellow blueliner Torey Krug was a healthy scratch and missed his first game of the season.
“We know we have eight D now and I think it’s, I guess, a competition so, just trying to play your best when you’re in the lineup, but it’s out of your control so you can’t really think about it. Just do your best and work hard in practice,” Hamilton said.
Whether he’s in the lineup or not, Hamilton needs to remain confident because everything will eventually click and the Bruins’ blue line should be secure for the foreseeable future.