BostonBruins.com — Sometime down the road, defensemen Dougie Hamilton and Matt Grzelcyk could share a blue line in Boston.
While it would make for a bit of an odd-couple — Hamilton stands 6-foot-5, 8 inches taller than the 5-foot-9 Grzelcyk — it won’t be any stranger than a potential showdown between the two B's prospects, last seen together in these parts wearing Black & Gold at Boston Bruins Development Camp, in the upcoming World Junior Championships.
Both Hamilton and Grzelcyk were two of five Boston recruits named to preliminary rosters for their respective countries for the international hockey tournament that will take place December 26- January 5.
Hamilton, Malcolm Subban, and Anthony Camara were all later named to Team Canada's official World Junior roster. Grzelcyk, who has spent the past two years in USA Hockey’s Development Program, was named to the USA’s selection camp. Rounding out the five was Alexander Khokhlachev, who will vie for a spot on Team Russia, the host country for the tournament.
“Three very different situations to be honest with you,” said Bruins Assistant GM Don Sweeney, referring to the team’s Canadian trio that will compete for team Canada. “Dougie has the benefit of a repeat performance, he’s sort of been expected mainly to be a participant in the NHL as a number of other players are.
“We expect [Hamilton] to be a real go-to guy for Team Canada on the back end. Log a lot of minutes on both sides of the puck, and play the shutdown as well as the power play role, and being the physical, dominant player that we know he can be, and has been throughout these past two years.”
While many of these players have had the chance to make each other’s acquaintance at "Dev Camp," (Grzelcyk and Subban even roomed together this past summer) they have also had a chance to compete against one other in other settings.
Hamilton, Subban, and Camara are all currently playing in the OHL, and have all played against each other over the course of their Junior careers. When the trio finally teamed up for the first time for the Subway Super Series representing Team OHL last month, they were pitted against Khoklachev wearing the Russian sweater.
Grzelcyk, who has spoke at length with BostonBruins.com on the positive impact his USA Hockey experience has had on his development, has shown major improvement in his freshman season at Boston University, showing offensive prowess from the Terriers blue line. The freshman, who was named Hockey East Rookie of the week back on November 12, has put up a 2-10-12 line, and has not shown signs of a difficult transition.
“His hockey sense… is elite,” Sweeney said. “He doesn’t even know what size he is, and don’t tell him any different, because he knows he can play, and play effectively in transitioning the puck, getting up the ice, being very good at the offensive blue line, and power play wise.”
In the OHL, the Bruins Canadian contingency has been a force the league in their respective categories. Camara is a top-10 goal scorer, Hamilton is the leading scorer among all blueliners, and Subban ranked second in goals against average, save percentage, and third in shutouts before he left to represent his country.
“Malcolm Subban probably has a lot of pressure right now with the goaltending in general that Team Canada does,” Sweeney said. “Not any one person is winning [the tournament], you have to win that as a team, but his athleticism, his competitiveness, certainly gives him a great opportunity to maybe steal a number one job.
“But again, that’s about stopping pucks, so we’ll see what happens there, and hopefully—I know he relishes that opportunity to be in that net.”
In Russia, Khokhlachev is still adjusting to the KHL game, but showed why he received an invite to team Russia’s camp at the Super Series, scoring two goals and adding an assist in the six games.
“I expect him to be a real team leader both offensively and defensively,” Sweeney said. “He’s now had the experience of playing in a previous World Junior. He’s playing in his home country and he’ll be highly motivated—his whole team will be, their whole country will be behind them.
“He’s been playing in the KHL against men. He had a very successful Subway Series. He’s poised to have a really good run here at the World Juniors, and I’m sure Team Russia is going to want to win it.”
Khokhlachev and his Russian teammates will look at avenge a painful loss from last year’s WJC, in which Sweden held Russia scoreless in a 1-0 overtime win. Khokhlachev was on last year’s silver medal Russia team. The only other Bruins prospect returning to the WJC for repeat action is Hamilton, also participating in his second tournament.
Bruins prospects seem assured to be pitted against each other, with Russia, Canada, and the United States all sitting in Group B of pool play.
The U.S. and Russia lock horns on December 28, a Canada-U.S. tilt will take place on the 30, and Russia-Canada will close pool play December 31.
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