There isn’t a team in the NHL that could afford to be as patient with Dougie Hamilton as the Boston Bruins have been. Around the league we’re seeing more and more young defensemen make an impact. From Seth Jones with the Nashville Predators to Jacob Trouba of the Winnipeg Jets, so far the 2013-14 NHL season has been the year of the young defender.
Which is rarely the case, since blueliners take so much longer to develop than forwards. It isn’t uncommon to see a defenseman just coming into his own at 24 or 25—by that time, wingers can be four-time 30-goal scorers and have their faces on billboards.
When the Bruins managed to select Hamilton in 2011, it was hailed as a downright steal for the club. This was the final piece of the Phil Kessel-trade-puzzle, and it was a massive one. The hulking 20 year-old is currently listed at 6’5″ and is pushing 200 pounds for the first time in his career.
How many other teams in the league could afford to have him watching from the press box occasionally? How many other coaches could resist the temptation to put Hamilton out on the ice with Zdeno Chara at every turn? Not many, but the B’s aren’t most teams. They have outstanding depth on the blue line, and currently have a rotation of three young defenders slipping in and out of the lineup, all with incredible talents.
Torey Krug is a monster on the power play, and Matt Bartkowski is going to be a solid player for a long time. Neither of those guys have the potential to win Norris Trophies though. While that’s still a long way out for Hamilton, at this stage of his career there’s no reason he should be watching games from afar.
He played in 42 contests in 2012-13 and didn’t seem out of place at all. Hamilton is another year wiser and stronger this year, and his performance against the Florida Panthers on October 17 should cement his place as a regular. The rotation makes sense, but not if the cost is a loss of development for Hamilton.
The kid is just going to be too good to have him sitting on the sidelines. This is about not shielding a player that doesn’t need to be shielded. At some juncture, protecting a guy from his own mistakes and insulating him only hurts in the long run. We’re approaching that stage with Hamilton now.