November 7, 2011

Kirk's Call: Confident Hamilton tearing it up in OHL

by Kirk Luedeke

Dougie Hamilton has taken his game to new heights in his third OHL season. (Dave Arnold Photography)

Confidence is a word you’ll hear defenseman Dougie Hamilton use quite a bit these days.

The ninth overall selection in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft by the Boston Bruins was returned to his OHL club, the Niagara Ice Dogs, in late September after a solid first pro training camp. In the first month-plus of the 2011-12 season, Hamilton has gone on a tear, scoring eight goals and 25 points in his first 17 games, earning OHL Defenseman of the Month honors in the process.

“I’m obviously pretty happy with how it’s gone,” Hamilton told New England Hockey Journal over the weekend, after his club completed a third game in three nights. “A lot of it I would say has to do with my coming back from (Bruins) training camp with extra confidence after playing with the NHL guys and realizing that I’m close to being able to play at that level.”

Hamilton added that while the personal performance has been encouraging, the real focus is on raising the overall level of his team’s play. The Ice Dogs currently sit fourth out of five teams in the OHL Eastern Conference’s Central Division with an 8-8-0-2 record.

“We had nine guys, I think, all at NHL camps,” Hamilton said. “They all went through the same things and came back with the extra step in their game and confidence from being in those situations. Some guys were there a short time, while others stayed a little longer, but that made it a little harder to get things going as a team.

“We’ve had some injuries, and haven’t had a full team on the ice very much. So, we’re working to get back to the level that we expect of ourselves and we can hopefully move forward from here.”

At nearly 6-foot-5 and 193 pounds, Boston’s top prospect is still growing and could tip the scales at about 220-225 when he reaches his peak. This season, he’s using his size and skill to play a strong two-way game and benefiting from extended ice time on Niagara’s special teams units.

“Our power play did pretty well in the first month,” said Hamilton. “In the OHL and CHL, you tend to see more ‘PP’ and (penalty kill) chances, so if you’re one of the guys who gets an opportunity to play in those situations, you’re going to benefit.”

Hamilton was originally a second-round OHL draft pick by the hometown Ice Dogs in 2009. Born in Toronto, his family moved to St. Catharines when older brother Freddie began playing for Niagara in 2008. While still playing minor midget with the local Falcons club, Hamilton hung around with the Ice Dogs and was positively influenced by defensemen like Alex Pietrangelo, one of the team’s stars at the time. The current St. Louis Blues standout would be traded to Barrie in Hamilton’s rookie OHL campaign, but he inspired the youngster to set the bar high.

In his second year in the OHL, Hamilton’s development exploded. He registered a defenseman club-record 58 points, knocking his mentor Pietrangelo out of the Niagara books.

His performance earned him top billing for the Bruins, who made Hamilton the second defender off the board last June in Minneapolis. A little over a week later, he was in Boston, attending his first pro development camp and getting an introduction to the organization and some of his future teammates.

“It was a great experience,” Hamilton said. “It was good to meet everyone. They tried to make it comfortable for you when you went to your first training camp with Boston and the development camp certainly did that for me.”

Hamilton’s summer wasn’t just limited to his on- and off-ice team building activities with his fellow Bruins prospects, either. He went to Calgary for Team Canada’s summer development camp for the World Junior Championship and put on quite a show, impressing those in attendance with his tools and solid two-way play.

“It gave me a lot of confidence,” he said of the time spent with his fellow Team Canada hopefuls. “I played a lot of high-caliber hockey over the summer and I think it all set me up well for main camp in Boston.”

Given Hamilton’s pro potential, skill level and the productive start to his season, it seems almost a given that he will be back with Team Canada in December. That final evaluation camp will decide which players will compete for the 2012 World Under-20 championship on home soil in Calgary and Edmonton. He and brother Freddie (a San Jose prospect) are both in contention for spots, and it would mark the first time since 1982 (Randy and Mike Moller) that siblings played together for Canada in the WJC.

“Our dream growing up was to make that team and to do it together would be even better,” said Hamilton, who enjoys a close relationship with his older brother of 18 months. “We’re working together to make that happen, but it’s something you can’t spend too much time thinking about right now.”

In addition to having the chance at playing for Canada’s WJC entry, Hamilton was also named to the 2011 OHL Subway Series team along with Boston hopeful Ryan Spooner, which will face a squad of Russian All-Stars (to include another B’s prospect, Alexander Khokhlachev) later this month.

If Hamilton can continue his high level of play all year, while adding a WJC appearance to his resume, it is not outside the realm of possibility that he could be in line for a spot in Boston next year coming out of camp. Much of that will have to do with how the B’s blue line depth chart looks in terms of talent and contract status, but if he can add weight to his lanky frame, management could decide to keep him up with the big club.

“Camp in Boston was a great experience,” he said. “I learned a lot and had a real good time getting to know everyone and seeing what is expected in the Bruins organization.”

Hamilton’s confidence level appears to be just scratching the surface, and if he reaches his impressive ceiling, Bruins fans will be thrilled with his towering two-way presence in Boston.

Kirk Luedeke can be reached at kluedeke@hockeyjournal.com.