Boston Bruins defenseman Dougie Hamilton could be the next superstar in a long line of great Beantown blueliners that includes Bobby Orr, Ray Bourque and Zdeno Chara. Heading into his second NHL season, expectations for the 6'5" prodigy are off the charts.
With Tyler Seguin gone to Dallas, Dougie Hamilton assumes the mantle of Boston's brightest young stars, and his development will take center stage in 2013-14. Deemed the top defensive prospect in the NHL by Hockey's Future, the 20-year-old is deserving of the attention:
He has the size, the mobility, and the hockey sense to become a top defenseman in the NHL... He is not an overly physical player, though he is not afraid to play the body or block shots. Hamilton is already a solid top four defenseman in the NHL and, with continued development, could become a player similar to Bruins teammate Zdeno Chara.
Though Hamilton is four inches shorter than the Bruins captain, he has more offensive upside than the former Norris Trophy winner. If he keeps an eye firmly locked on Chara for the next few seasons, he will go a long way.
So what can we expect from Hamilton over the next few years?
Let's start with the upcoming season. Training camp should bring a wide open race for ice time on Boston's back end, made all the more interesting by the emergence of Torey Krug and Matt Bartkowski.
Hamilton cruised to a spot in the top four at the opening of his rookie season, but with more bodies battling for ice time, it may not be so easy this time around.
Krug and Bartkowski both snatched ice time from the younger Hamilton in the postseason, keeping him off the ice completely in the Stanley Cup Final. However, the rookie showed enough in the lockout-shortened season to guarantee himself a roster spot this season.
Hamilton split his time between all three pairings last season, averaging roughly 17 minutes of ice time per game. He looked most impressive when playing alongside Chara, and he could slot in alongside the workhorse defenseman regularly this year.
Bleacher Report's Nicholas Goss expects the two giants to hog the first pairing minutes, but a more conservative projection would match Hamilton with Dennis Seidenberg.
Hamilton and Chara look great together, but the apprentice might not be ready to log the master's usual 25 minutes of nightly ice time .
Expect instead to see Hamilton clock in near 20-22 minutes per night, including shifts on the first power- play unit.
Hamilton's offensive production should increase markedly in his second season. He tallied a respectable, if unimpressive, 16 points in 42 contests last season, which would have put him on pace for 31 points over a full 82-game stretch.
The arrival of Jarome Iginla and Loui Eriksson should help the Bruins convert more chances, especially with the man-advantage. More power-play goals should mean more assists for Hamilton.
Granted, he will have to battle with Torey Krug for the quarterback role. Krug's quick release and threatening transition game should help him carve out a spot on special teams, but Hamilton's big shot and keen eye for a cutting pass make him the favorite.
His offensive genius showed in flashes last season. His game-winning assist against the Carolina Hurricanes was a prime example:
A good sophomore season should see Hamilton flirt with 40 points. Nineteen defensemen reached the 40-point plateau in the last full NHL season. Though Hamilton's game won't yet be on par with many of those elite players, he should post comparable numbers to a good offensive defenseman like Matt Carle, who finished 2011-12 with 38 points.
Years three and four of Hamilton's NHL career should see him improve his defensive game significantly. If he masters Zdeno Chara's two greatest skills, then he will be in great shape.
Chara has become a perennial Norris contender primarily for the way he uses his reach and his size. Though Hamilton is dwarfed by his 36-year-old teammate, he still has elite size.
If he can learn how to use his stick to shut down massive patches of ice just like the Slovakian all-star while simultaneously becoming more physical, then he will be well on his way to Norris votes.
Despite his bulk, Hamilton has yet to become a true intimidator on the blue line. He'll deliver a huge hit on occasion, but he can become a true nightmare for forwards if he gets more comfortable throwing his weight around.
Hamilton racked up just 14 penalty minutes as a rookie. Coach Claude Julien would never encourage taking bad penalties, but those numbers tend to correlate with physical play. A few more minutes in the box won't necessarily hurt if they are the result of increased physicality.
In years five and six of his career, Hamilton should finally be reaching his potential as a truly elite defenseman. Four years from now, Chara will be 40-years-old. At age 24, Hamilton should be perfectly prepared to take over as Boston's go-to defender.
It will be in those years that he could begin to chase the Norris Trophy.
It is important to point out that despite his prolific offensive production in juniors, he is not the next Erik Karlsson. Much more of a two-way defender than the Swedish star, Hamilton probably won't ever near 80 points in a season.
What caliber of player will Dougie Hamilton be in five years?
That said, he should challenge the rest of the league's elite blue-line scorers. Chara-like point totals in the mid to high 50's should be regular. With a little luck, Hamilton could even top 60 points someday, though that will depend greatly on the forwards in front of him.
At his peak, Hamilton should log 25 minutes a night, with roughly 58 points and a plus-30 rating. If he can do that, he'll be very competitive when it comes to end of season awards.
The big question at that point will be whether or not he can replace the locker room leadership that Chara has given the Bruins over the past few seasons. We won't be able to judge his leadership qualities until he has more experience under his belt.
If he can become the engine of a championship team, then he will be well on his way to joining the Bruins greats in the rafters of the TD Garden.