Boston Bruins: Which Young Defenseman Will Be the Odd Man out in 2013-14?

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Boston Bruins: Which Young Defenseman Will Be the Odd Man out in 2013-14?
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

One week ago, Boston Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli told WEEI’s Big Bad Blog that he was bent on keeping defenseman Dougie Hamilton in the NHL.

That is not necessarily going to change in the immediate future. With room on the NHL roster for six defensemen at a time on game night plus a spare, Hamilton should have a space with the big club to start 2013-14.

The same should go for two other young blueliners in Matt Bartkowski and Torey Krug. Behind the seasoned quartet of Johnny Boychuk, Zdeno Chara, Adam McQuaid and Dennis Seidenberg, the three youngsters could engage in a beneficial battle for games played.

Ultimately, though, that means one of the three will soon find himself noticeably logging the fewest minutes. That, in turn, could warrant at least a temporary game-heavy stint with the Bruins' AHL affiliate in Providence come November or December.

Where they are in their development and based on how their impressions at training camp have compared, Hamilton projects to trail Bartkowski and Krug by then.

To reach that conclusion is to say nothing of Hamilton’s pedigree, his draft status as the ninth overall pick in 2011 or his long-term future. Rather, it has everything to do with the current state of Bartkowski and Krug and their role in the Boston blue-line brigade as well as, perhaps, their impact on the payroll.

From a salary cap standpoint, Bartkowski is the most cost-effective of the three in question with only a $650,000 cap hit. Conversely, Krug checks in with a hit of $1,704,167 while Hamilton consumes $1,494,167 of the allotted $64.3 million.

Should the need to reach cap compliance factor in to an AHL reassignment, then one of the seven-figure salaries will surely be the one to go.

Besides that, five points have been enough for Bartkowski to lead the Bruins in preseason production so far. He has applied that gravy to the offensive side of the biscuit on the heels of showing up to his fourth professional training camp, as head coach Claude Julien told the local press, “in better shape than he ever has.”

As it happens, those two developments address the “flaws” cited on Bartkowski’s online scouting report from The Hockey News, which read “Could stand to add more strength to his 6-1 frame” and “Lacks consistency on offense.”

Meanwhile, THN sums up Krug’s potential as playing the part of a “Puck-moving depth defenseman with a little upside.”

There again is that term, “puck-moving defenseman,” which has drawn ample attention for its slew of subpar performers during the Claude Julien era. Names like Dennis Wideman, Tomas Kaberle and Joe Corvo have perpetuated the revolving door in that department.

It is worth noting, though, that those three players did not originate in the Bruins organization, let alone Julien’s system. Then again, there have been some younger, more homegrown players who tried to play that role, only to be cast off (e.g. Matt Hunwick and Steven Kampfer).

Still, Krug has the distinct advantage of having gone through the ultimate test and learning experience in the form of 15 Stanley Cup playoff games, including the final round. He pounced on his chance after logging a cumulative 70 regular-season and postseason appearances with Providence, bouncing back from a November foot injury in the process.

From about Jan. 2 onward, he was a consistent presence with either the AHL or NHL Bruins for almost a full six-month span. That makes for more than a stable foundation to burgeon into a size-defying, puck-moving specialist in what may be his belated first full regular-season with Boston.

In the wake of Boston’s fifth exhibition tilt Monday night, Anthony Travaglia of Bruins Daily referred specifically to Bartkowski and Krug as two of the many reasons why, in his words, “…the Bruins could finally be deadly on the power play.”

Translation: Boston’s man-up brigade could regain a stature closer to the one that tied for fourth in the league with 23.6 percent success in 2008-09, Marc Savard’s last full season.

Since that year, pressing on without the once heavily leaned-on Savard’s specialized services, the Bruins have finished no higher than a tie for No. 14 on the power-play leaderboard. Their highest final conversion rate in that four-year span was 17.2 percent in 2011-12.

Of course, Hamilton has his own potential on the power play. He led the Ontario League with 30 power-play assists in 50 games in 2011-12 and added another dozen over 32 appearances with the Niagara Ice Dogs last season.

In addition, having rounded out his amateur days in major junior means Hamilton generally has an edge over contemporary college products as far as knowing the professional regimen is concerned.

However, that advantage is as good as moot in this competition given that Bartkowski now has three full pro seasons on his transcript and Krug went through his first in 2012-13.

On top of the fairly mild experiential discrepancy, Hamilton’s scouting report from The Hockey News states that he needs to “learn how to use his size more to his advantage” and also “Must prove he can be a dominant player against men.”

An arrangement where he is guaranteed regular involvement in game action would be the second-year professional’s perfect inlet to achieving those needs. That arrangement is possible in Providence.

Hamilton has the highest long-term potential among the troika in question and as paradoxical as it may seem, a temporary AHL fling may be a key to ensuring that potential later on. Practicing with established NHLers is beneficial, but there comes a point where there is no substitute for authentic game action.

Do, however, note the “temporary” in “temporary AHL fling.” Depending on how much time he logs, the impression he generates and Boston’s needs later on, Hamilton could usher the likes of Bartkowski out altogether before 2013-14 is even over.

If the Bruins need to make a move and have the necessary cap space to do so by the trade deadline, their surplus of rising blueliners will likely be a place to tap into for exports. In that hypothetical event, the 25-year-old Bartkowski, who will be a restricted free agent next summer, would be the logical candidate to go.

Unless, of course, everyone’s budding career is taking a whole new shape and their rankings need to be reshuffled by that point.

But we can save that topic for six months. In the short run, whether it amounts to taxiing or pursuing minor credits, Hamilton holds third place in this footrace to the Boston blue line’s top six.

Unless otherwise indicated, all statistics for this report were found via nhl.com

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