Hamilton Returns to Bruins Lineup
The 20-year-old Hamilton, in his second NHL season, has still only played 76 career games, but is quickly becoming a "veteran" on the Bruins' less experienced back end since the loss of Dennis Seidenberg, and amidst injury woes for Adam McQuaid.
On Saturday in Philadelphia, Hamilton returned to the Bruins' lineup after missing four games while recovering from his first concussion. Boston skated to a 6-1 rout of the Flyers.
The defenseman logged 18:55 in ice time, spending 2:25 of that on the power play, getting three shots through and blocking two shots. He ended the game with a +1 rating.
But it's not Hamilton's stat line that matters.
"Well, there's a guy that has been with us now for a year, and he does have some experience," said Bruins Head Coach Claude Julien, of the options Hamilton's return gives the blueline.
"He's really calm with the puck and makes good plays, moves the puck extremely well so it was good."
One of Hamilton's best assets is his work along the blueline, to corral bouncing pucks. It's something that Julien often practices with the team's defensemen, shooting pucks off the glass for them to handle inside the blueline. It helps sustain the team's forecheck.
Hamilton obviously isn't the only Black & Gold D-man to have that quality, but there's a calmness to his demeanor up there.
He also has the vision to find seams, and get pucks towards the net, which has gotten tougher in today's NHL. Just ask Zdeno Chara, who can't wind up and fire like he used to.
It was a "frustrating" December and January for Hamilton, who was out a total of 15 games due to an MCL sprain in his knee and then a concussion. Both of the recoveries were new experiences for him, having never suffered an injury that kept him out of the lineup for sustained time.
But, like his first return to the lineup after the MCL sprain, this return was rather seamless.
"I think I didn't really feel any different. I didn't feel like I really missed time," said Hamilton, following the win over Philadelphia. "And felt good. I think just to get back into it, it's relieving and I'm pretty happy."
Hamilton's 76 games of experience are a jump up from Torey Krug's 53, Matt Bartkowski's 55 and Kevan Miller's 17. Chara and Johnny Boychuk provide overall stability to the back end. But Hamilton's size and experience helping shut down top lines with Chara have helped his game progress.
After completing his first practice with full contact following the concussion on Friday back in Boston, he took a minute to reflect on that progression.
'How big of a leap do you think you've made, from Year 1 to Year 2?' asked a reporter.
"I think pretty big," Hamilton had said. "A lot better defensively and just feel a lot better on the ice, so it's just been an unfortunate two months, and hopefully I can just get back into the lineup again, and have fun, and help the team out."
He was ready for that return in Philadelphia, and was naturally pleased to be part of a strong team win.
"When everyone's contributing, that's what happens," said Hamilton, of the dominant performance in the 6-1 victory. Jarome Iginla and Zdeno Chara each scored twice, along with Patrice Bergeron and Reilly Smith, whose goal came with Hamilton on the ice.
"I think everyone was having fun. When you're doing that, everyone's moving their feet and moving the puck and there's a lot of nice plays, and good shots, and stuff like that, so I think everyone's going to say that was fun, and hopefully we can keep doing that."
The Bruins have proven that no matter who's in the lineup, if they stick to their team game, and execute, they'll likely get the result.
While Zach Trotman, with the club from Providence, would have served as a viable replacement if Hamilton wasn't ready to go on Saturday, it still helps to have that slightly more "veteran" presence back there.
"When you compare him to Trots, there's obviously a year of experience difference there, so it does help out," said Julien. "Especially, as you know, with the injuries that we've had."