Boston Bruins: Will an NHL Lockout Hurt Dougie Hamilton's Development?
Given the choice between the Ontario Hockey League, the American League and the NHL, prospective Boston Bruins defenseman Dougie Hamilton’s most ideal scenarios ascend in accordance with the level of each league.
Just his luck, the top two may not even be available to the 19-year-old in the 2012-13 season.
The NHL and NHLPA returned to their CBA negotiations on Tuesday with only 19 days left to avert a work stoppage of any length. Any missed time for the sport’s quintessential league equals a delay to Hamilton’s rookie year in the pros.
If Hamilton is to play at any professional level in the next year, it seems Boston is his only option.
There was momentary speculation, particularly on the part of AHL play-by-play announcer Dan Weiss, that the current rule barring Canadian major-junior players from the minor pro ranks until the age of 20 would be allowed to expire.
However, Sportsnet’s Jeff Marek holds that that rule will be preserved and the general consensus is that NHL prospects still in their teens must remain in major junior if they do not play in The Show—whether that would be for getting cut at training camp or for a lack of NHL training camp altogether.
Well, so much for that.
Under amended circumstances, Hamilton’s lockout backup plan could have been practicing with the likes of 35-year-old Trent Whitfield and playing against a dense collection of other professional/NHL veterans.
Mind you, not quite the NHL, which he is practically ready for, but certainly more ideal than going back to a level where he clearly has nothing left to prove.
Hamilton is the reigning defenseman of the year in both the OHL and the three-league Canadian Hockey League. He is coming off a campaign where, despite playing in at least 10 fewer games than his closest competitors, he finished first in points and tied for second in goals among OHL blueliners.
One of his reasons for missed time was the World Junior Championship, where he averaged a point per game with Team Canada. He has similarly averaged better than a point per game in each of his last two OHL playoff runs.
Furthermore, with five established NHL blueliners plus rookie Torey Krug and AHL/NHL journeymen Aaron Johnson and Garnet Exelby, the Bruins have all but made the sixth defenseman’s slot Hamilton’s to lose.
Even if there are stretches where he is only practicing and watching from afar on game night, Hamilton is best-served by working with NHLers from here on out.
The only way that is going to happen is if NHL commissioner Gary Bettman is satisfied with a new CBA and gives his league the okay to resume normal activity. For Hamilton, in particular, it may be vital that the deal get done before the autumnal equinox.
As weei.com Bruins columnist DJ Bean noted in a Sunday entry, a delayed start to the 2012-13 season may be too late for Hamilton to debut at any time within that season.
Wrote Bean, "If Hamilton is back in Niagara by the time the NHL season starts, the CHL would have to sign off on amending the rules for the season to allow players in Hamilton’s situation to leave.”
Translation: Hamilton must find himself pulling a Spoked-B over his shoulder pads no later than October or inevitably let his development stall for what could be an entire year.
After performing ahead of his years compared to his junior teammates, he would then be an exceptional 19-year-old trying his luck against mostly unripe 16-, 17- and 18-year-olds. If he is going to get the most out of the start of his professional odyssey, he needs to spend his final year as a teen striving to perform ahead of his years against 20- and 30-somethings.
An NHL lockout―and, in turn, an altogether unnecessary fourth season in the OHL―certainly will not slam Hamilton’s stock with irreparable damage, but it will hurt him by not helping him.
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