July 8, 2011

Hamill at crossroads

By Kirk Luedeke

WILMINGTON, Mass. -- The subject of Boston Bruins prospect Zach Hamill came up during the Bruce Cassidy post-development camp practice presser Friday.

The newly minted Providence head coach (who spent the previous three seasons as Rob Murray’s assistant prior to Murray’s dismissal last spring), provided some detailed remarks on the player and prospect he’s well acquainted with.

“Obviously, (Hamill) hasn’t developed as well as we all hoped,” Cassidy said. “We all know that up front. Part of that has to fall on the coaching staff and part of that has to fall on the individual.”

Hamill was a top-10 pick after the Dave Lewis-coached Bruins fell to the bottom of the Northeast Division in 2007. Having led the WHL in scoring with 93 points that year as a member of the Everett Silvertips, Hamill was seen as one of the “safer” picks in the draft in several circles because of his excellent hockey sense and passing ability. Although only average-sized, Hamill’s vision and hands were first-rate.

Four years later, however, Hamill has played just four total NHL games with two assists to his credit. His AHL play in Providence since turning pro full-time during the ’08-09 campaign has been up-and-down at best. Further exacerbating the angst surrounding his slow development is the fact that 2011 Calder Trophy finalist Logan Couture was taken just one pick after Hamill by San Jose.

“Zach gets an opportunity to work with a new coaching staff per se- maybe that motivates him,” Cassidy said. “Maybe we look at moving him around and a different position. He’s been a center iceman. (There is) not a lot of room there, sometimes. Maybe (we) try him on the wing. I know it’s a little unorthodox thinking outside the box but maybe that gets his game up to another level, putting him with some players that can make him a better player also.”

The fact that Hamill hasn’t panned out for Boston is certainly a disappointment, but he’s not yet 23 and even if it isn’t in the cards for him to remain here, Cassidy intimated that the fourth year pivot could find a home elsewhere. Because of his age and when he signed, Hamill actually has another year on his entry-level contract, so unless something happens between now and Sep., he will be back in camp and vying for a spot with the defending NHL champions.

“When you win a Stanley Cup, there’s obviously good players and there might not be room,” said Cassidy. “But for him, part of his process could be: ‘there’s 29 other teams maybe if I show other people I can play’, then he’s still an asset to the Bruins.”

Hamill isn’t likely to bring much back in any return, but a strong camp in the fall could go a long way to ensuring that the B’s get some mileage from him going forward.

“At the end of the day, when you’re in your fourth year with the same organization it falls upon yourself just to push people, I think,” Cassidy said. “The individual has to recognize what’s going on around him.”

Cassidy made it clear that Hamill is the one who needs to take control of his destiny, at the very least by playing himself into an opportunity, even if it means a change of scenery.

“That’s sort of how Zach has to approach it both on a personal level,” said Cassidy. “That hey- maybe I’ve got to find a home somewhere else if it’s not here but playing well, or I’ve got to make space for myself here and they’ll move someone currently in the lineup. That’s kind of what falls upon the depth players.”

It seems inconceivable that after the B’s felt strongly enough to take Hamill with a top-10 selection that he’s a depth player and not knocking on the door at least as a potential impact performer for Boston, but his struggles underscore the unpredictability of the NHL draft sometimes. Now at a crossroads in terms of determining whether he can make it in Boston, Hamill is out of chances and will need to make a definitive statement come autumn.

“That’s how (depth players) push,” said Cassidy. “Brad Marchand– he pushed guys out of the lineup– let’s face it. So, guys have done it- it’s just not that easy.”