Dougie Hamilton is all of six games into his NHL career and things are looking good thus far for the 19-year-old Bruins defenseman.
So good, in fact, that Boston coach Claude Julien sees a trace of greatness in the 6-foot-5-inch rookie. His body type, style of play and demeanor, Julien noted Tuesday, conjures up an image of Hall of Famer Larry Robinson, the ex-Montreal defenseman.
“He’s tall, and he’s not going to run anybody through the boards,’’ said Julien, prior to the Bruins defeating one of Robinson’s former clubs, the Devils, 2-1, in a shootout Tuesday night at the Garden. “But he’s solid and he moves the puck well and sees the play well. I think everybody knows Larry was a pretty good player.’’
Hamilton, the No. 9 pick in the June 2011 draft, only officially learned on Monday the Bruins would not send him back to his St. Catharines, Ontario, junior team. Now that he has played his sixth game, he is in Boston to stay for the season, and likely for years and years to come, providing Julien’s assessment is correct.
Thus far, Hamilton has shown himself to be a very effective passer and puckhandler, often triggering strong first passes out of the defensive zone (one leading to a Patrice Bergeron breakaway goal) and also able to tiptoe along the blue line, in possession of the puck, when Julien has rolled him out for the power play. There have been glimpses of him in games when it has been difficult to remember that he’s a new kid on the Causeway block.
“His hockey sense is outstanding, his vision is extremely good,’’ said Julien, rarely so effusive over young players, including the likes of Phil Kessel and Tyler Seguin. “We know he’s got the size, the skating, and everything else to play in this league. I think his composure is what seems to be really impressing a lot of people. He’s made some big plays for us . . . right now, to me, he’s not playing like a rookie, he’s not playing like a first-year player. He’s playing like a player that’s been around for a while.’’
McQuaid in town
Adam McQuaid was given Monday off in order to return home to the Canadian Maritimes to attend his grandmother’s funeral. The big blue liner, born in Charlottetown, PEI, was back in Boston Tuesday morning, needing extra time to route through Montreal because of bad weather. He did not play against the Devils. “Management and coaches were really supportive, so that meant a lot,’’ said McQuaid, referring to being able to skip Monday’s game in Raleigh, N.C. “She was a big part of my life . . . fortunately I was able to get there.’’
McQuaid, a physical presence on the No. 3 defensive pairing, often with Andrew Ference, did not pick up a point in his first four games. Veteran Aaron Johnson, acquired as a free agent over the summer as a depth/insurance player, moved into the lineup in McQuaid’s absence.
McQuaid late in the summer required emergency surgery for a blood clot that settled high in his chest, just under the collarbone, and he did not tune up his game in Europe during the NHL lockout. The surgery and his time away from playing have at times been evident. His game remains somewhat under reconstruction.
“I’m feeling better every game,’’ he said. “Probably part of that is just getting back into the groove of playing games, hopefully I’ll just continue to improve. Yeah, I’m feeling good . . . [the surgery] is not on my mind or anything when I’m playing.’’
Timing and strength remain factors in his rebuild.
“Probably a little bit of both,’’ said McQuaid.
“I continue to do the physio side of it and I continue to get stronger. Having not played in such a long time it can be tough to get your timing back, like everyone else.
The game in Raleigh ended with the typically-calm Bergeron all riled up, irate at being what he felt was the victim of a slew foot dished out by slick Hurricanes forward Jeff Skinner in the closing moments of Boston’s 5-3 win.
“It was just emotions, just part of the game,’’ said Bergeron, who traded shots and spirited words with Skinner prior to both clubs filing to their dressing rooms. “I just told him what I thought and that’s about it.’’
The two players banged into one another behind the Boston net, causing both to fall backward, crash and tangle. Brad Marchand told WEEI.com Tuesday morning that Skinner “slew foots all the time,’’ leading Skinner to react with some dismay later in the morning.
“I don’t think that’s what happened,’’ he told Raleigh News & Observer reporter Chip Alexander. “I think [Bergeron] stepped in front of me and we both fell back. I looked at the [videotape] and my hips were open. I don’t know how you can pull somebody back over your leg when your hips are open. I think my left foot was off the ice there and we were both off-balance. We got tangled up.’’
“I thought it was uncalled for —the puck wasn’t even close,’’ a very even keeled Bergeron said late Tuesday morning.
“Things like that,’’ he added, “I think are uncalled for.’’
On the board
Seguin finally put a puck over the goal line Monday, connecting for his first goal of the season after potting 29 over the 82-game schedule last season. Of the top 35 goal scorers in 2011-12, only Jarome Iginla (Calgary) remains without a goal this season.
“Well, I think he is out of synch,’’ said Julien, noting that Seguin played weeks of hockey in Switzerland, where the ice sheet is considerably bigger than in the 30 NHL rinks.
“I think where the puck battles are along the boards, [that’s] somewhere where he’s always going to have to work a little harder because he’s always played center, and center you’re always the support guy — he didn’t have to battle too much along the boards.’’
Seguin in his two-plus seasons with the Bruins has been somewhat inconsistent, in his willingness to fight for pucks and battle through checks. His abundant speed and stick skills often allow him to steer clear of tough sledding.
Neither club has suffered a loss in 60 minutes of regulation. The Devils fell to the Canadiens, 4-3, in overtime Sunday, and lost Tuesday in a shootout. The Bruins were rubbed out, 4-3, in overtime by the Rangers last Wednesday at MSG . . . Christopher Bourque, son of Bruins icon Ray Bourque, has yet to pick up a point in his six games with the Spoked-B. “I wouldn’t necessarily overanalyze it that way,’’ said Julien, asked if he felt Bourque was frustrated or pressing. “I think he’s playing better and better. The numbers aren’t there. But I think he’s gaining confidence’’ . . . The Bruins have six more back-to-back dates. The next one has Tampa at the Garden on Feb. 9, followed by the Bruins’ visit to Buffalo . . . The Bruins have collected at least one point in their first six games — something they had not done since starting 5-0-1 in 1970-71, the October following their Stanley Cup season.