PROVIDENCE – For the second straight fall, Bruins 2007 first-round pick Zach Hamill put everything he had into making the NHL roster during training camp.
However, the Bruins left for Europe last week via plane while Hamill found himself journeying back down to play for the Providence (AHL) farm club.
Providence over Prague isn’t the choice any traveler would make, let alone a hockey player with dreams of carving out a career at the game’s highest level. But Hamill’s making the best of things now that he’s starting his third year in the American League.
“I feel like I’m pretty close. So it’s just a matter of coming down here and working hard and playing well enough when that call comes [from Boston],” Hamill told TheBruinsBlog.net today after the team practiced at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center in preparation for Friday night’s season-opener at home against Springfield.
Hamill was among the last cuts last fall and then didn’t see an NHL locker room again until Boston played its last game of the regular season in Washington in April. This year, it looked like his opportunity to stick with the big club was better because of the lingering injury to Marc Savard and the initial move of Tyler Seguin to the wing. Seguin’s now skating at center in Prague and Hamill’s skating with a P on his chest instead of a B. The numbers game pushed out Hamill yet again in the Bruins’ center-rich organization.
Before the Bruins brass demoted Hamill, they sent him to Providence with an extra assignment.
“They said for me to come down here and take a little more of a leadership role – not just on the ice, but off the ice as well,” said Hamill, 22. “Come down here and just keep doing what I was doing up there, work hard on and off the ice, if it’s in the weight room or wherever.”
“I can be more of a leader on the ice, I think,” he continued. “Lead by example out there. I’m just hoping to do that.”
That might be another element Hamill could bring Boston down the road in addition to his skilled hands and excellent vision. It never hurts to have another guy that can motivate younger players in the room. The P-Bruins’ locker room is currently dominated by rookies, so there’s plenty of leading that has to be done and it can’t just be left to the 30-plus duo of Jeremy Reich and Wyatt Smith.
So far this training camp, Providence coach Rob Murray has seen an improved Hamill.
“Right now, I think he’s moving better. He’s got himself a little bit of swagger, a little more confidence and I think that another thing that he’s doing – it’s a subtle thing – but he seems to be more engaged as far as asking questions,” said Murray who has been skating Hamill between wingers Jamie Arniel and Max Sauve. “Just little things whereas [in the past] he’d just sort of sit there and not do anything. So it’s nice to see.”
A one-time 93-point scorer during his junior career with Everett of the WHL, Hamill has totaled 26 and 44 points in his first two full pro seasons, respectively. The even-strength, first-line time and power-play minutes should be his to lose as the season unfolds, so he’ll have a chance to emerge as a premier point-getter. Whether he has the ability to finally do it remains to be seen. Right now, Hamill’s not sweating over the numbers and Murray’s not worried that his player will try to do too much.
“I think the more you worry about that, the tougher it is on you,” said Hamill. “You just want to go out there every night and create chances. I think if you get chances and they aren’t going in, it’s nothing you can control but I think you start worrying when those chances aren’t coming.”
“I think he’s a smart enough hockey player. I don’t think he’s going to think that he has to score three or four points every night in order to make it to the NHL,” noted Murray. “He knows there are details of the game that he needs to be successful with.”
The last year of Hamill’s first pro contract, and possibly his last chance to prove he can be part of Boston’s future, begins Friday night at The Dunk. He’s going in with the proper attitude, so now it’s just a matter of his production reaching the projected heights Boston has for him.