The Boston Bruins are still reaping benefits from a September 2009 trade that sent Phil Kessel to Toronto for first- and second-round picks in the 2010 draft and another first-round pick in 2011. The Bruins drafted forward Tyler Seguin second overall in 2010 and Jared Knight with the second-round pick, and then last year took Niagara IceDogs defenseman Dougie Hamilton ninth overall.
While Seguin had a breakout 2011-12 in leading the Bruins in goals and points, Hamilton, who'll turn 19 on June 17, had a breakout season of his own for the IceDogs. He led Niagara to the OHL finals and was named OHL defenseman of the year with 17 goals and 55 assists in 50 games. He followed that up with five goals and 18 assists in 20 playoff games, and it appears the 6-foot-4, 193-pound defenseman is ready to make the leap to the NHL.
"Dougie's the best junior defenseman I've ever coached," Niagara coach Marty Williamson told the National Post recently. "I think you could be looking at a Norris Trophy-type guy, a guy that has a [15- to 20-year] career ahead of him. He's going to be a wonderful pro."
Bruins assistant general manager Jim Benning also voiced excitement when projecting Hamilton's future.
"The strength of his game is two-way play and he definitely put up big numbers in juniors this season, but when you make that step to the next level, first and foremost you have to be good defensively," Benning said. "Especially in [Bruins coach Claude Julien's] system he will need to do that and, if he does at first, eventually he can gain confidence and a comfort level to play his game. From there you hope he gets to the speed and the feel of an NHL game and then I really see him eventually growing into a point-producing defenseman."
"[Pietrangelo] got his feet wet and then this year he got really confident and played a strong two-way game," Benning said. "That's what I see Dougie growing into."
Benning, Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli and the Bruins' brass were very impressed with the progress Hamilton made after playing a major role for Canada at the World Championships.
"We followed him through the whole year and I thought it was a great learning experience through the whole year," Benning said. "He got to play for Team Canada in the World Junior Championships and be a good go-to guy. That was a good experience and a stepping stone as he just ran with it and finished off the year really strong and then had a really strong playoffs. So overall we're very happy with his progress this year.
"When we drafted him he was a really good skater for his size and he could handle the puck real good. But this year he was more physical. He got stronger over the summer and played with an edge. That was good to see him incorporate that into his game as well."
That physical edge did get Hamilton into some trouble in January, when he was suspended 10 games for a hit to an opposing player's head. But as Benning pointed out, Hamilton adjusted and was able to control his physical play rather than hold back and be hesitant.
"That was kind of an unfortunate thing, but he took responsibility for it. And when he came back in the playoffs, he was smart about playing physical against the other teams' best players to give his team an advantage," Benning said. "I think it was a learning experience for him and he showed that when he had a chance to be physical in the open ice or in the corners he wasn't hesitant to do that. That was good to see."
Benning and the Bruins have also been impressed with Hamilton's level of maturity and see him as a solid teammate on the Bruins when he reaches that level.
"When we interviewed him last year at the scouting combine he immediately showed us the caliber person he is," Benning said. "We already knew about him being a great student in school and he comes from a well-grounded family. His mother and father were both athletes; his brother Freddie plays with him at Niagara and was drafted by San Jose; so he comes from an athletic background and is a well-rounded kid. He's got the skill set and the size to develop into a real good player, but we also know he will be a good teammate."
Will Hamilton be a teammate of current Bruins such as perennial Norris Trophy candidate Zdeno Chara next season? Benning said he would be given every chance to do so.
"That will work itself out," Benning said. "If he comes in and deserves to make the team then you know Peter [Chiarelli] and Claude always make room for guys and he'll get every chance to make the team. If he's not ready, well, then we'll have to decide what's best for his development at that time."