BOSTON – Here we are on the cusp of the close of training camp, a point in time pushed up because of the Bruins’ upcoming trip to Europe, and Zach Hamill is still around.
One year removed from being among the final cuts at Boston’s camp, the 2007 first-round pick (eighth overall) will continue his push to be included on the opening night roster in, of all places, Washington, in the first half of a home-and-home series with the Capitals.
Just five months ago, Hamill played his one and only NHL regular season game in the same place against the same club, and he recorded an assist in Boston’s victory.
“Obviously, this is a big game for me,” Hamill said after the morning skate at TD Garden. “Obviously, these two games here, I’m playing tonight. I’m not looking too far ahead, but obviously in the back of my mind I want to go on the trip [to Europe]. That was my goal coming into camp. And I can’t really control that kind of stuff. All I can control is what I do tonight.”
Tonight’s game will mark Hamill’s second preseason game appearance of this fall. He recorded an assist and a plus-1 rating in his only other game. He figures to center a line with Brad Marchand and Milan Lucic, which should give him a better-than-average chance to make things happen and convince head coach Claude Julien and the Bruins’ brass that they should keep him as their fourth center in the absence of Marc Savard.
Julien has had nothing but compliments for Hamill throughout camp, including today.
“I see a guy who’s a little more confident making plays,” said the coach. “I see a guy that’s a little bit more involved in the play because he feels stronger and capable of doing that. I like the direction he’s taking.”
Ever since Hamill was drafted by the Bruins, it’s been hard to get read on what the club thought of his future. While they’ve never made any negative proclamations about him, the Bruins’ drafting record shows that they’ve picked up so many centers over the years, it’d be easy to forget Hamill was in the mix. Hamill hasn’t been oblivious to that fact.
“Obviously, that happens in hockey. It’s obviously a business and you’ve got to earn your spot,” he said. “That’s why every year, you go to training camp trying to earn a job and a spot and hopefully you’ll be a regular here one day.”
The Bruins have preached patience with Hamill ever since he became part of their organization, and a glance at the draft recap from ’07 shows that only St. Louis’ David Perron has established himself as an NHL regular among players taken after Hamill in the first round. That doesn’t mean Hamill hasn’t been chomping at the bit a little to get cracking on an NHL career.
In particular, Hamill might’ve expected an earlier call-up last season with so many injuries hampering the parent club. Nonetheless, the Bruins left Hamill in Providence to a get a full, healthy American League season under his belt. He finished with 14-30-44 totals in 75 games before his one-game call-up to Boston.
Although there’s a little more urgency now that he’s in the final year of his three-year, entry-level deal (he’ll be a restricted free agent next summer), Hamill is still subscribing to the plan the Bruins have put forth for him.
“I think you just kind of have trust in the organization and what they’re doing,” he said. “Obviously, everyone wants to be in the NHL, that’s the ultimate goal, and at the end of the day that’s what you want to do and that’s where you want to be. So I think that’s where I want to be, but at the same time I trust exactly what they’re doing and what they’re plan is. Just be patient every day, whether it’s here or at Providence, [make sure] I’m working hard and ready to go.”
He’ll be ready to go tonight against the Capitals, and again tomorrow if the Bruins put him back in the lineup. He’ll do anything to be on that plane to Belfast after Wednesday night’s game.