With Marc Savard out, the Bruins have held a training-camp audition of sorts to see who might fill the third-line center spot and head to Europe with the team Wednesday night.
Among the top candidates is Zach Hamill, whom the Bruins chose eighth overall in the 2007 NHL draft. It has been a long road for the Vancouver native, who in his first two full seasons with the team’s AHL affiliate in Providence amassed 70 points in 140 games. Hamill was one of the final cuts last season but didn’t get a look at the NHL level until he was called up for the season finale at Washington, where he registered an assist.
On Tuesday, Hamill was back in the nation’s capital, once again hanging on and trying to earn a spot on the team’s NHL roster out of camp -- and a trip to Europe. The Bruins will leave for Northern Ireland after their game with the Capitals on Wednesday night and plan to be down to 27 players by then.
Prior to Tuesday night’s tilt at Washington, Hamill seemed calm and didn't plan on changing his approach to secure a spot on that plane to Belfast.
“I just need to keep going out there and playing my game because the more I’ve tried to go away from my game in the past, it doesn’t work,” the 22-year-old pivot said. “I’m not going to go out there and save lives. I just need to go out there and play my game.”
Hamill’s path to a regular spot on the Bruins roster has admittedly taken longer than he had hoped, but he remains patient, trying to learn from each camp and his time in Providence. He said he knows this was a crucial camp for his development but that he's tried to keep things in perspective.
“I think every year you want to get better and this is just another year of getting to the next level and show you can play in the NHL one day,” he said. “Every year has been a building block. The pro experience I’ve gotten down in Providence and the one NHL game there last spring, they’re all huge experiences and I’ve tried to build off that and learn more each year.”
One thing he may have going for him is that coach Claude Julien and his staff have been very impressed with his resilience and desire to be better each year. Julien praised Hamill on Tuesday and pointed to the playmaking center going to development camp in 2009 despite already having a year of pro hockey in the AHL on his resume.
“I give him a lot of credit and I look to last year when he came to development camp, I think it was his third one,” Julien recalled. “He swallowed his pride, there’s no question about it. In the coaches’ eyes that meant a lot because it shows a guy who wants to continue to get better, and because of that he’s made some strides in the right direction and he knows what we’re trying to do here.”
Julien cautioned media and fans not to focus on Hamill being a first-round pick who hasn’t made the show yet, but rather on the progress he has made each season and the confidence he is now playing with.
“I see a guy who’s a little more confident making plays,” said Julien. “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."