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WILMINGTON – Bruins assistant general manager Don Sweeney repeats the same line every summer on the first day of development camp like it’s his mantra:
“NHL jobs are not being won or lost during development camp.”
After he and a handful of coaches put this year’s crop of Bruins prospects through more than an hour of on-ice drills at Ristuccia Arena on Thursday, Sweeney again uttered those famous words. But just because Sweeney declares that this camp isn’t an audition doesn’t mean we observers can’t treat it as such.
So, of course, if you’re watching the 2012 version of development camp with your mind at least partially darting ahead toward main camp in the fall, you’re eyes are glued on defenseman Dougie Hamilton most of all. Hamilton, who was the Bruins’ first-round pick (eighth overall) in 2011, instantly catches your view because he stands 6-foot-5. But his skill set is also beyond reproach and we’ve already gotten general manager Peter Chiarelli on record saying he thinks Hamilton can push for a spot on the 2012-13 NHL roster. In fact, Chiarelli made that statement all the way back in December, when the Bruins signed Hamilton to his entry-level contract and was still in the early stages of his remarkable season with Niagara of the Ontario Hockey League.
“I guess it’s a confidence boost,” Hamilton said after practice Thursday when asked about Chiarelli’s proclamation. “Obviously he sees that I’m doing good last year and I guess my development’s going good and they’re happy with that. For me, it’s just work as hard as I can this summer and prepare myself as best I can for next year.”
Hamilton has proven that when he focuses on improving, the results can be astonishing. He followed up a 58-point year from 2010-11 with an amazing 72 points in 50 games last season. He led all OHL defensemen in points and won the OHL and Canadian Hockey League Defenseman of the Year honors.
Skating with his fellow prospects last summer and then with the big boys at NHL camp probably set Hamilton on his upward path.
“I think I kind of played with confidence and I got better,” said Hamilton, who also helped Niagara reach the OHL championship round. “I think the camp last year helped me a lot, just playing with the guys. And it’s definitely a change practicing with guys like this and the main camp and stuff like that, and then going back to the OHL. It’s definitely a difference. So you just try to raise your game and then have fun with it.”
Dougie Hamilton From B’s Developmental Camp:
For now, the most fun is watching an improved Hamilton and wondering how much better he can get, what he would look like playing next to Dennis Seidenberg or Zdeno Chara, or whether he could be part of the solution to Boston’s insufficient power play.
NHL jobs aren’t won this time of year, but this camp could be the preliminary bout before Hamilton wins a great fight in the fall.