WILMINGTON, Mass. -- Boston Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli handed out a major confidence boost to the organization's top prospect recently, claiming that Dougie Hamilton had a good opportunity to make the team for the 2012-13 season.
Hamilton, a 19-year-old defenseman, has the size (6-foot-5, 200 pounds) and the ability to make the team out of training camp in September. The opportunity is there. If he prepares properly and does everything the organization wants him to, there's a good possibility the first-round pick (ninth overall) in the 2011 NHL draft could be playing in the NHL next season.
If not, it will be back to junior hockey.
"My goal is to make the Bruins," Hamilton said. "I want to get better every day and try to give myself the best opportunity to do that."
Hamilton is currently participating in the organization's development camp at Ristuccia Arena. He enjoyed an impressive 2011-12 season with the Niagara IceDogs of the Ontario Hockey League, recording 17 goals and 55 assists for 72 points in 50 regular-season games. In a total of 20 playoff games, he posted five goals and 18 assists for 23 points.
"Doug had a really, really good year," Bruins assistant GM Don Sweeney said. "There's no question he was a dominant player at that level, and I think he went back and worked on a lot of things we addressed with him in terms of rounding out his game and decision-making. He's such an athletic player to begin with at that size and how he moves. I think, overall, he just became a dominant player at that level and he's ready for the next step, the next challenge."
Since the Bruins drafted him, Hamilton has added size and strength.
"It's about keeping my speed and getting stronger," Hamilton said. "I don't want to get too bulky and slow. It's not about just putting on weight, I've got to get stronger and put on the weight that way."
Hamilton's goal to make the team will be a challenge. He'll have to earn it, because it won't be handed to him with the likes of Zdeno Chara, Dennis Seidenberg, Johnny Boychuk, Andrew Ference and Adam McQuaid already on Boston's blue line.
"Hopefully, [Hamilton] continues to progress, because that position is not the easiest thing in the world to learn at the NHL level," Sweeney said. "We're hopeful he can come in and establish himself, but it's up to him, and nobody gives him anything. Hopefully, he can come in and make the next step."
Hamilton said he knows Chiarelli, Sweeney and the rest of the organization believe in his abilities, both on and off the ice, because the GM would have never said Hamilton has a chance to make the team in September without that belief.
"It is a confidence boost," Hamilton said. "Obviously, he saw that I did good last year, and I guess my development is going good and they're happy with that, so for me I'll work as hard as I can this summer and prepare myself for next year."
After his junior season ended, Hamilton had about six weeks to rest and prepare for Boston's development camp. This is the second time he has attended the organization's summer camp for select prospects, and he clearly has advanced, on and off the ice, from a year ago.
"I think I'm a lot further ahead," Hamilton said. "I'm stronger now and I've put on some weight. I had a pretty good season last year and gained a lot of experience coming from that, too. I'm more confident coming in this year, and it's also easier when you know guys because you're more comfortable."
During training camp last September, Hamilton played in an exhibition game and worked with Chara. Hamilton got a taste of the speed, size and strength of the NHL game, and it prepared him for what could be on the horizon.
"They paired me with Chara right off the start, so I definitely listened to him, and having him in my ear and talking to me, I definitely took a lot from that and I'm looking forward to going back into minicamp with him again," Hamilton said.
"Guys say it's easier in some ways because everyone's good and the puck moves really quick and you've got to be able to move the puck, so in that respect I think it could be a little bit easier, but the guys are bigger and stronger and faster and that's what I'm trying to do to improve on that and be ready."
Of the 30 players participating in the camp, only Torey Krug has NHL experience. After signing with the Bruins as a free agent out of Michigan State last March, the 21-year-old defenseman played a total of two games for the Bruins. When he watches Hamilton skate, Krug said he knows he's watching the future on Boston's blue line.
"He's a bigger guy and you can see he's got a ton of skill," Krug said. "He's got a head on his shoulders and he knows how to play the game. You can see a ton of potential there. You know he's going to have a great career, and I'm looking forward to seeing him develop."
Krug and Hamilton have already begun a friendly competition to make the Bruins' roster in September.
"When September comes we're going to be battling for jobs, but when it comes down to it we're going to be teammates and battling for a Stanley Cup," Krug said. "We understand there's going to be something to compete for, and it's going to be fun. I'm looking forward to it."
If Hamilton does not earn a spot on the Bruins' roster, he'll need to return to junior hockey. That, however, does not seem likely at this point.