By Matt Kalman, CBS Boston

BOSTON (CBS) – Those waiting for Bruins defenseman Dougie Hamilton to get his offensive game going were relieved Saturday night in Buffalo.

Not only did the Bruins beat the already lottery-bound Sabres to earn four of a possible six points on their road trip, but Hamilton landed on the score sheet.

After going point-less through the Bruins’ first six games, Hamilton had one goal and one assist in the 4-0 shutout of Buffalo.

Even though the Bruins are just seven games into the regular season, every point counts in the standings. And every point counts for Hamilton as well, because as we all know by now the 21-year-old is expected to do big things this season.

As he continues to get stronger and perfect the art of defending in the NHL, Hamilton could also reach new heights offensively as he gains the confidence to gamble more and learns new ways to thread his heavy shot through traffic. Every battle won against a high-skill opponent at the defensive end and every point earned on the attack will contribute to the Bruins’ success and also could add to Hamilton’s value as a free agent.

Hamilton is finishing up his three-year entry-level contract this season and is scheduled to be a restricted free agent next summer. Unlike teammates Reilly Smith and Torey Krug this year, by next summer Hamilton will have all the necessary service time to be a “real” free agent, complete with the ability to get an offer sheet from another club.

Smith and Krug, two other important Bruins contributors, will also be restricted free agents next summer after they signed one-year contracts. But Hamilton, as a two-way defenseman who plays in all situations, tops the list of Boston’s priorities in terms of players who need to be re-signed, sooner better than later.

Things can change once agents and actual money get involved, but at least for now Hamilton doesn’t sound like a guy who’ll be holding the Bruins over a barrel in negotiations.

“It is what it is. I think you don’t play for the money,” Hamilton recently told this reporter. “I think you play just because it’s fun. I don’t play because you make money here. It’s your dream to be in the NHL and you play it to make the NHL and then to be the best player you can and I guess the player you can in your career. So for me I’m just trying to become that and become the player I dreamt of being when I was little.”

If the market wasn’t already set for a defenseman of Hamilton’s ability, age and experience, it really came into focus after two recent contracts were signed elsewhere in the League. Twenty-one-year-old Jonas Brodin signed up for six years with the Minnesota Wild at a little more than $4.1 million starting next season. And Los Angeles defenseman Jake Muzzin, although a little older at 25, signed up for $4 million over the next five years, which was widely viewed as a below-market contract. Muzzin wanted to play for a team that won the Stanley Cup two of the past three seasons and figures to be in the hunt for years to come. So he decided what level of rich he wanted to be, and the Kings obliged him.

There were other defensemen already in that same price range. Jake Gardiner in Toronto is making a little more than $4 million, Cam Fowler of Anaheim and Roman Josi are at $4 million and Washington’s John Carlson is at a little less than $4 million. All signed deals of five, six or seven years. You better believe if the Bruins can get Hamilton to sign a contract at one of those lengths for that price, they won’t hesitate.

Hamilton’s on-ice awareness is nearly matched by his observation skills off the sheet. He doesn’t have to look far around the dressing room to see that defenseman Dennis Seidenberg and other veterans didn’t test the free agent market and agreed to stay with the Bruins at reasonable prices. He just saw how Krug and Smith (who it should always be noted didn’t have any leverage) made concessions to try to help keep the Bruins’ core together. He knows that as long as there’s an NHL salary cap, championship-caliber teams aren’t going to be able to drench everyone in cash. But you’ll still be better compensated than most people in other walks of life.

A couple dozen more nights like his performance in Buffalo and Hamilton could really price himself out of the range of his peers. That doesn’t mean he’s going to chance the bigger chunks of change.

“Yeah, I think that’s how it should be. I think you can definitely see teams that if they have a single player … who’s paid highly and you’re kind of losing a space for somebody else. So I guess it’s that same concept,” Hamilton said. “If you have two D, and one making $9 million and one making $1 million, you can have two for $5 million, so that’s just kind of what you want. So I think our team is obviously built pretty well. And that’s a credit to [general manager] Chiarelli. And I think that we have a chance to win every year, so obviously it’s fun to be a part of that.”

Matt Kalman covers the Bruins for CBSBoston.com and also contributes to NHL.com and several other media outlets. Follow him on Twitter @TheBruinsBlog.

Hear every game of the 2014-15 Boston Bruins season on 98.5 The Sports Hub — the flagship station of the Boston Bruins. Pregame coverage with Dave Goucher and Bob Beers begins 30 minutes prior to every game!

MORE BRUINS COVERAGE FROM CBS BOSTON

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