September 11, 2011

Flashback: The case for Dougie Hamilton

By Kirk Luedeke

Rookie camp in Boston has put the spotlight squarely on the team’s top draft choice from this year, defenseman Dougie Hamilton, who was taken ninth overall.

Back in January, Hamilton was being tracked as an ideal solution to bolster Boston’s prospect depth at the defense position. Here’s a look back at what I wrote up on Hamilton in the Bruins 2011 Draftwatch blog:

Dougie Hamilton, D Niagara Ice Dogs (OHL)

Vitals:

Height: 6-4 Weight: 195 Shoots: Right
Born: June 17, 1993 in Toronto, Ontario

Bio: 
Son of Doug and Lynn Hamilton, both Canadian Olympians (Doug won a bronze medal in the 1984 games) and standouts in World Championship competition for their respective sports, neither of which was hockey (Doug in rowing, Lynn in basketball). Older brother and Niagara teammate Freddie was a fifth-round selection (129th overall) of the San Jose Sharks in 2010. Was a 2nd Team OHL All-Rookie and Ice Dogs Rookie of the Year in the ’09-10 season. Also earned the OHL’s recognition for top scholastic player (Ivan Tennant Award) with a 97 percent average at Governor Simcoe School in St. Catharines,Ontario where the Ice Dogs are based and captured the award again in ’10-11. Scored 3 goals and 16 points as a rookie, and already has 8 goals, 41 points in 44 games in his second OHL season in a dramatic jump in offensive production over just one season. Participated in the NHL’s first Research and Development Camp held in Toronto back in August. Won a gold medal for Team Canada’s Under-18 Team at the Ivan Hlinka Tournament in Slovakia in August.

Strengths: Sizeable frame with long limbs; grew about two inches and added about 10 pounds of muscle last summer– developing on an impressive physical curve, with another expected jump when he turns 18 in June. Very good skater with strong, power-generating stride and the ability to cover a lot of ground. Good footwork and directional change ability despite his size and high center of gravity. A right-shooting defenseman who generates very good power and torque on his shot. Unleashed a howitzer drive in the Top Prospects Game that eluded goaltender David Honzik and clanked in off the far post– a testament to his potential as a power play triggerman at the highest level. Aggressive in the offensive zone; will jump on loose pucks and take them to the net; has become increasingly involved in the Niagara attack and is producing at nearly a point-per-game. Makes a pretty strong, crisp first pass and can help with the transition game. Good physical presence: will use his size to staple opponents to the boards. Not a huge open-ice hitter, but initiates contact and embraces the tighter-checking situations. Bright, intelligent kid who carries himself well and is a good teammate. Learns from his mistakes. Tremendous athletic bloodlines passed down from both father and mother; grew up in a disciplined house and already understands the commitment and dedication needed to be a top echelon athlete.

Weaknesses: Defense is a work in progress: switched from forward to defense at about 13-14 years of age, so is still figuring out the nuances. Prone to trying to do too much in his own end, can get to running around– needs to keep things simple. Not much of a fighter; will drop the gloves if provoked, but technique is lacking and does not appear comfortable in that kind of setting, using size/strength to grapple as opposed to punching effectively.

Style Compares to: Jay Bouwmeester. Although not as outstanding a skater as the Calgary Flames standout, Hamilton moves very well for someone with his size.

Why the Bruins would pick Hamilton: He may not have (Ryan) Murphy’s dynamic, game-breaking element, but Dougie has what Murphy, no matter how hard he works, can never possess: prototypical NHL size and strength to play the defense position. Even if Hamilton’s upside is not as high as Murphy’s, he’s a safer pick because he’s clearly going to play in an NHL team’s rotation somewhere and the worry that he might only be a specialist doesn’t factor into the argument for Hamilton. He’s a Bruins type of player in that he’s big, skates well, has a high character and also fits an organizational need. The B’s have a group of middle tier defenders in their system, but no clear-cut blue-chippers at the position. David Warsofsky shows a lot of promise offensively, but his size works against him. Matt Bartkowski and Ryan Button have decent enough size and skill, but lack the pure upside to be much more than No. 3/4 projections right now. Hamilton would instantly move to the top of the team’s depth chart for defensemen given his all-around package of size, production and intelligence.

Why the Bruins would not pick Hamilton: If they have a player like Murphy rated higher and believe in the Kitchener defender’s potential to be an NHL regular, then Hamilton would be a step down, and the B’s would likely opt for the little dynamo. As strong as Hamilton is as a two-way blue liner, he’s not all that instinctive and is still learning the position (just as Murphy is), so the fear in some circles is that Hamilton could be a ‘tweener who brings good size and mobility to the mix, but never quite figures it out. Based on what we’re hearing from scouts, that should not be an issue, but he’s still a bit raw and is probably not ready to step in and play right away.

What scouts are saying:

“Hamilton…I love that kid. He’s a two-way beast. He’ll nail you, play physically in the defensive end, he can take the puck and go end-to-end with it. He can quarterback the power play. I think he’s actually better as the triggerman on the power play– he’s got a big shot. He’s approaching Larsson’s level. Larsson’s been there a couple of years, whereas Hamilton’s development curve is heading straight up. So, Hamilton, I’d be shocked if he made it out of the top-eight picks this year.”- Kyle Woodlief, Chief Scout and Publisher, Red Line Report; December 2010

“Dougie’s size and mobility are his best attributes. He’s got a long reach as well, which makes it really difficult for opponents to get by him. I have to say I’ve been pleasantly surprised at the offense from him this season- I didn’t see that coming based on last year. That said, is it going to translate to the NHL? That’s a debate we’ve had and will continue to talk about, because it’s going to play into how high he goes in the draft. Obviously, if you think he’s going to put up numbers in the NHL, then you’re looking at a top-five pick, easily. But, if not, then you’ve got some tougher decisions to make with him, I think.”- NHL scout to Bruins 2011 Draft Watch; January 2011

Bust factor: Low to medium; Hamilton will play in the NHL; he’s too big and mobile not to at least reach that level. But, the team who drafts him does so thinking they are getting a solid No. 2 maybe even a No. 1 someday. So, if he fails to live up to those expectations, depending on where he gets picked, Hamilton could be a bit of a disappointment someday. However, given his intelligence and work ethic, it’s tough to bet against him.

The Verdict: If you factor organizational need into the equation, you can make a convincing case for Hamilton as Boston’s best player available (BPA) at fifth overall, even if he lacks the game-breaker element of a Murphy. It would be hard for a team like the Bruins to pass on Hamilton’s enticing package, and the thought of one day pairing him with Zdeno Chara, where he can be both a shutdown-type of player with the ability to get the puck up the ice and help with the attack is something that the Bruins desperately need. Even if he’s playing on a different pairing than Chara, Hamilton’s 6-4 frame would make him one of Boston’s bigger guys and a threat to break it out. The fact that he shoots right is even more appealing, giving the Bruins two powerful shooters from the point to feed off each other.