Johnny Boychuk didn’t hesitate when answering whether 19-year-old Bruins phenom Dougie Hamilton has the potential to someday be as good a defenseman as Zdeno Chara.
“He will be for sure,” Boychuk said. “I can see him being like a Rob Blake and Zdeno Chara — kind of like a cross between them. So that’s pretty good.”
That’s extremely good as Blake, the now-retired former captain of the Kings and Sharks, and Chara, the Bruins captain, have 13 All-Star Game selections and two Norris Memorial Trophy between them.
Hamilton, the ninth overall pick in the 2011 NHL draft, has fit in nicely with Boston since the first day of training camp. Actually, the morning of the Bruins’ season opener against the Rangers, Boston coach Claude Julien said Hamilton’s only weakness was a lack of experience.
That’s high praise.
Hamilton has impressed so far with his composure and poise handling the puck. He had four assists in nine games entering yesterday’s contest against Tampa Bay.
“He has a lot of patience and he sees the ice really well,” Boychuk said. “He’s going to be extremely good.”
Hamilton is expected to eventually become a shutdown defender who also can provide offense. He scored 40 goals and added 147 assists in 213 games over four seasons for the Niagara IceDogs of the Ontario Hockey League and was the Canadian Major Junior 2011-12 Defenseman of the Year with 72 points and a plus-37 plus/minus rating in 50 games.
Hamilton doesn’t remind Chara of himself at 19.
“He’s way better than I was at 19 — oh my God, yeah,” Chara said. “He’s got really good vision on the ice. He’s got the composure to make plays. Overall, he’s been really steady. He has the ability to skate at this level and at his size.”
Height is one obvious trait both the 6-foot-5 Hamilton and the 6-9 Chara share. Hamilton laughed while saying he doesn’t even know if he is finished growing yet.
“I never thought I was going to be 6-5,” said the rookie whose dad Doug, a former Olympic rower for Canada, is 6-1 and whose mother Lynn, a former Olympic basketball player for Canada, is 5-8.
“As I started, growing I started watching (Chara and other taller defensemen) more,” Hamilton said.
Hamilton — who as a kid idolized defensemen such as Scott Niedermayer, Jay Bouwmeester and Bryan Berard — grew about three or four inches over a short period of time after he finished playing bantam hockey.
“It’s definitely tough to adjust to your new height,” Hamilton said, adding he became less coordinated with everything, including his shot.
“But it’s all good now,” he said, smiling.
It certainly is all good. Hamilton is the talk of the town and his height gives him a distinct advantage.
“If you can skate and you’re big, you take up a lot more space and you’ve got a long reach,” he said. “It’s just nice to be big.”
Hamilton has a locker right beside Chara’s at the Bruins practice rink in Wilmington. Chara’s and Hamilton’s lockers at the TD Garden are separated by just Andrew Ference.
Chara often is pointing things out to Hamilton. So is Boychuk who took a much different road to the NHL. Unlike Hamilton who went right from juniors to the NHL, Boychuk spent 374 games in the AHL and didn’t get a permanent job in the NHL until about three months before he turned 26.
“(Boychuk) talks to me a lot on the bench and off the ice,” Hamilton said. “We’re both right-shot defensemen and a little bit similar so I guess I can watch him. He has a really good shot, he works hard, is smart and physical, and makes good plays like all our Ds. Whenever they (the other defensemen) see stuff, they tell me.”
Hamilton and the Bruins defense — with the exception of the loss to Buffalo — have been solid. Entering yesterday’s game, the Bruins were seventh in the NHL in goals against per game (2.22).
As Hamilton gains more NHL experience, Boston’s defense should become even stringier.
“He kind of plays like Z (Chara),” Bruins defenseman Dennis Seidenberg said about Hamilton. “He’s not as big and strong yet, but he’s got great reach, great skating ability, and it’s real easy to play with him.”