By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston

BOSTON (CBS) — The coronation of Dougie Hamilton as the next great Boston defenseman has rightfully taken a back seat over the past month or so amid the expected hiccups of a 19-year-old rookie defenseman in the NHL. He entered Monday night’s homecoming against the Maple Leafs with zero points in his last 10 games, with his ice time dipping as low as 13:02 last week in Ottawa.

But against the Maple Leafs, Hamilton took a long overdue step forward, reminding the Bruins that even throughout some of those growing pains, the kid continues to improve and feel comfortable at the NHL level.

That much was evident midway through the third period, with the Bruins trailing 2-1. Goals had been hard to come by for Boston, which fell behind 2-0 in the second period before Milan Lucic snapped his own 15-game scoring drought.With the Bruins needing one more to at least salvage a point in the home-and-home with Toronto, Hamilton provided the spark.

Hamilton rushed after a Brad Marchand dump-in and beat Jake Gardiner to the loose puck in the corner. The 6-foot-5 D-man then muscled through Gardiner’s check and sent a backhand feed to Patrice Bergeron down low in the right faceoff circle, and Bergeron beat James Reimer with a backhand shot for the game’s tying goal.

It was a chance Hamilton might have been more hesitant to take as recently as last month, but it’s one that proved crucial for a Bruins team in desperate need of goals.

Dougie Hamilton (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)

Dougie Hamilton (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)

“I think it’s just instinct to take that risk and go,” Hamilton said of the play. “Usually I don’t try to go behind their net too much, but I guess it worked out.”

Since Saturday night’s loss to Toronto, much was made in the media of Claude Julien’s rearranging his forward lines. It was fitting, then, that the team’s most important goal was generated by a defenseman stepping into an offensive role.

“I thought the D’s did a good job, especially again in the third period, of carrying the puck up forward instead of going back, pinching at the right time, and putting more pressure on them,” Julien said. “I thought that was an important part in our turnaround.”

While the goal was huge, the offensive potential is something that’s been present in Hamilton since his first days in a Bruins uniform. More encouraging in the development of Hamilton was the physicality he put on display Monday night. Leafs forward Clarke MacArthur offered one too many shoves to Hamilton in a puck battle in the corner behind the Bruins net in the third period. Hamilton showed MacArthur that he’s not afraid to fight back, and ended up dumping MacArthur to the ice, much to the delight of the home crowd.

Even more — Hamilton said it wasn’t a confrontation that simply came to him. He said it was something he sought out.

“I got hit in the jaw in the first period and I wasn’t too happy about that,” Hamilton said. “I just was looking for any opportunity I could get after that to be physical. I think it’s something I can definitely add to my game and something I’ve gotten better at over the last couple of years. I’m just trying to learn when the chances are that I can do that kind of stuff.”

It’s the kind of stuff that can go unnoticed when a first-place team like Boston goes through a rough stretch of the schedule or when Hamilton himself is in the middle of a scoring slump. But it’s the type of stuff that can pop up by surprise when everyone’s least expecting it, reminding us all that even though he’s hitting some bumps along the way, Hamilton continues to round out his game.

Read more from Michael by clicking here, or find him on Twitter @michaelFhurley.


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