Dougie Hamilton saw his three-game point streak come to an end Saturday night. He couldn’t get off the ice during a two-and-a-half-minute shift in the second period. And he said after the game that he didn’t know where the phrase “Jekyll and Hyde” came from.
There you go. Those are all the things that went wrong for Hamilton in the Bruins’ 3-1 win over Toronto. The list of things that went right is much, much longer, as the 20-year-old defenseman played arguably his best game of the season, and maybe the best of his young career.
With Adam McQuaid playing just 44 seconds before leaving the game with an injury, the rest of the Bruins’ defense corps had to pick up his minutes. But it was Hamilton who saw the biggest spike in playing time. He wound up playing 24:43, a career high for a 60-minute game and a full five minutes more than his season average entering Saturday.
“His first part of the year he was in and out a little bit. But he’s played really solid for us,” Claude Julien said after the game. “Offensively he continues to make good decisions, good plays, very aggressive. Defensively he’s becoming better and better all the time. So he’s a young player — he’s a 20-year-old — but with experience, he’s starting to flourish and he just has to keep going that way.”
Hamilton would’ve picked up a couple extra minutes no matter what, but the way he played warranted even more than that. He created a number of scoring chances in the offensive zone, including one in the first where he made a nice move around Nikolai Kulemin at the blue line before zipping a pass over to David Krejci, only to have Krejci flip the shot off the side of the net.
But Hamilton has always been good in the offensive zone. What really stood out Saturday night was his play in the defensive end. He worked himself into the regular penalty-kill rotation, partly because of McQuaid’s injury and partly because he showed he could succeed there. He consistently battled with Toronto’s strongest forwards in front of the net, as well as defenseman Dion Phaneuf on a late Maple Leafs power play. And he showed solid positioning on Toronto’s rushes, including one in the third where he made a poke check on the speedy Jake Gardiner look easy.
While Saturday may have been Hamilton’s best game yet, it didn’t really come out of the blue. Hamilton has been playing well for a while now. He’s been getting top-four minutes most of the season, and his 7.0 Relative Corsi is good for third among B’s defensemen (if you’re not familiar with Corsi, that means that with Hamilton on the ice, the Bruins have been seven shot attempts better than their average per 60 minutes of 5-on-5 play).
The former top-10 pick was a healthy scratch for two of the Bruins’ first five games as Julien rotated through young defensemen, but it appears he has solidified a regular spot at least for the time being, as he has now been in the lineup for 11 straight games. And while Julien has protected fellow young defenseman Torey Krug with an offensive-zone start of 62.1 percent, Hamilton has split his zone starts 50/50, indicating that Julien is trusting him more and more in his own end.
Tuukka Rask is trusting Hamilton more and more, too. So much so that he barely even notices the second-year defender any more.
“He seems to make the right plays a lot out there, and he’s persisting well, he’s playing the body well, and playing smart,” Rask said. “I think the less I see him out there, the better he seems to play. I never really can memorize anything he does out there defensively, so I think that’s a good sign that he’s playing a rock solid defensive game.”