June 11, 2014

Hamilton's evolution a bright spot for Bruins

By Andrew Merritt

Dougie Hamilton chipped in with two goals and five assists in 12 playoff games and emerged as a dependable defender capable of logging key minutes. (Photos/Brian Babineau/NHLI via Getty Images)

While the prevailing memory of the 2013-14 Bruins season will be the gut punch of a seven-game series loss to rival Montreal, the twists and turns of the team’s roster revealed some signs of a bright future.

The season-ending injuries suffered by Dennis Seidenberg, Adam McQuaid and Chris Kelly removed key veteran pieces of the lineup when the Bruins needed them most, but their absences also paved the way for some big performances by young players.

It’d be hard to call Carl Soderberg’s performance a surprise, since his arrival was long-awaited and highly anticipated last year. While it took Soderberg some time to find his stride in the NHL, he was one of the team’s better performers down the stretch this year, finding a natural fit with fellow Swede Loui Eriksson on the third line.

And when a herniated disc knocked Kelly out of commission for the final three regular-season games and the entire postseason, the Swedes were bolstered by solid debuts from rookies Matt Fraser and Justin Florek. Fraser, in fact, provided one of the happier memories of the Bruins’ playoff run when he scored the game-winner in overtime of Game 4 against Montreal, his first NHL playoff goal. He made an even bigger splash with the media when he revealed during breakup day interviews that he had suffered a broken foot in the first game of the AHL playoffs with Providence before being called up for nine postseason games with the big club.

On defense, the injuries to Seidenberg and McQuaid had a much more profound effect. Though Torey Krug and Matt Bartkowski saw some time during the 2013 playoffs, both were forced into big roles this year. Krug, for one, acquitted himself well, quarterbacking a power-play unit and sparking the Bruins’ comeback from a two-goal deficit to beat Detroit 3-2 in Game 4 of that series.

Bartkowski was less effective and at times looked dangerously overmatched against the speedy Canadiens in the second round. He was scratched three times during the postseason, but he saw a lot of ice time in his first seven games before taking a diminished role during Game 7 against Montreal.

Those minutes, and some of the costly giveaways and penalties that now sit on his playoff résumé, might not have come to fruition if it weren’t for the injury to Seidenberg — the key piece in the 2010 trade with Florida that also brought Bartkowski to Boston.

Kevan Miller, who was called up in November during McQuaid’s first absence and ended up grabbing a firm hold on a roster spot, was in the spotlight for the wrong reasons when he coughed up a puck in Game 6 at Montreal, leading to the first of four Canadien goals as the Habs forced Game 7. But it was one of a handful of negatives in a season full of positives for the University of Vermont alum, who showed impressive strength and good stay-at-home ability during his days with the big club.

“I thought these guys took over and did a great job,” said Patrice Bergeron, who had a newcomer on his line in Reilly Smith. “You think about Miller, I don’t think anyone really thought he would be with us and play so well, but he really impressed me in the way he carried himself. It definitely got some younger guys some more minutes and experience, and that’s going to benefit us and them next year.”

Though Smith didn’t come to the club through the same development route as the other young players this year, he ended up being an even more valuable part of the Tyler Seguin trade than Eriksson, who was eyed as the big prize coming from Dallas in return for the Bruins’ talented but troublesome former winger. Though it was Smith’s second full year in the NHL, he got his first taste of the postseason this year with the Bruins and picked up four goals and an assist, playing in a way that made it hard to see him as a non-veteran.

The same goes for Dougie Hamilton, who made huge strides during the season and was a workhorse during the playoffs, often matched with Zdeno Chara in the top defensive pair.

“I thought it was a real coming out for Dougie,” GM Peter Chiarelli said. “He had a real — he made mistakes, don’t get me wrong — but I think he had, by the end, a real good playoff. You saw confidence, you saw something that Claude (Julien) has been working on, the defending. And he still has areas to improve on there, but he is really defending with more strength. He’s not always been good with the puck, but he had a really solid, real solid playoff.”

This article originally appeared in the June edition of the New England Hockey Journal. Click here to access the FREE digital edition.

Twitter: @A_Merritt

Email: amerritt@hockeyjournal.com