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Behind the Blue Line

Posted By Matt Preston On Jan 18 2013 @ 8:08 am In Boston Bruins | No Comments

There are some folks out there who say I tend to say a little too much when I write. Thanks to those folks, my season preview for the 2013 Boston Bruins was broken up. Yesterday, an improving offense [1] that was already statistically one of the best in the league was discussed. Today, it is a look at the team’s bread-and-butter: their defensive presence.

A cynic might try to argue the Bruins defense had a down year in 2011-2012 when they fell out of the top two in total team defense for the first time in four season. That said, they fell to all of sixth in the NHL, giving up 2.43 goals per game. The Bruins defense is as good as it has been in the Claude Julien era and should continue to be just that.

Joe Corvo joined the Boston blue line in 2011 hoping to fill the role of Peter Chiarelli’s coveted puck moving defenseman and, by most accounts and opinions, failed miserably and was not brought back in the offseason. The loss of Corvo, as well as role players Greg Zanon and Mike Mottau, means the Bruins’ d-corps had more holes to fill than the offense, but all of those holes are at the bottom end of the defensive rotation.

Led by arguably the best defender in the NHL in captain Zdeno Chara, five of the Bruins’ top six defensemen from last season are returning. With Adam McQuaid seemingly fully recovered from offseason blood-clot surgery and the remaining four members of that core all taking a spin in Europe during the lockout, the Bruins defense is already well known and should pick up exactly where it left off, leaving little to talk about when it comes to the Bruins defense before we get to see them play.

Since the dawn of the Peter Chiarelli era, there has always been one tale of note for the Bruins defense, however. Who will fill the role of the elusive puck moving defenseman? Lest we forget before Corvo came to town there was the Tomas Kaberle sage. This season, the story of the puck moving defenseman spot on the roster takes a twist, as it will most likely be filled by one of the NHL’s hottest prospects in Dougie Hamilton.

The lone unknown on the blue line comes to Boston with a great deal of hype surrounding his potential following a stellar junior career, touted as the man to follow Chara in the long line of great Bruins defensemen. Not that the Black-and-Gold will be relying on the 19-year old rookie for any sort of top-level production, but there are a great number of people who have eagerly anticipated Hamilton donning the Spoked-B since he was drafted ninth overall in 2011, just to see what the kid can do.

Hamilton has gotten a good look at the top of the defensive rotation during this shortened training camp, spending much of the time on the second pair alongside Dennis Seidenberg, as well as getting time on the second power play unit. Given it is not easy or fair to judge such a small sampling of practice performance, the question should not be how good Hamilton will be this season. Hopefully there is plenty of time in his career to worry about that. The kid should be able to flounder as many teenage rookies do in the NHL and it should not have any real bearing on the Bruins overall success this season. In 2013, it is going to be a question of how much will we see out of Hamilton?

Will he get the Seguin treatment?

The Bruins are in much the same situation for Hamilton as they were for Tyler Seguin when he joined the team as a 19-year old, high draft pick in 2011. The team was coming off a strong regular season, but a disappointing playoff exit. Despite that disappointment, there was not really a need for the Bruins to rely on the second overall pick for any sort of offensive contribution. With or without him, they were already a good team. As a result, Seguin spent much of his rookie season either buried on the team’s fourth line or watching games from the stands.

It is difficult to argue with giving Seguin such little responsibility that first year and so much time to fully develop given the results of the team that season and the numbers Seguin put up last year. Though under a different regime, Joe Thornton was handled the same way and it seems to have worked out for him as well. Yes, Thornton and Seguin are forwards, while Hamilton is a defenseman and the development of a defenseman will not be the same, but it leads one to believe those expecting big time and big production from Hamilton this year will probably be sorely disappointed.

Unless he completely struggles out of the gate, Hamilton will make the team and be in Boston all season. Things could be dicey in the immediate future given Hamilton’s age and inexperience, but with his potential and getting to learn alongside one of the best defenseman in the league in Chara and best defensive coaches in the league in Claude Julien, the future is bright for the Bruins defensive corp.

Yet, no matter how long Hamilton’s development takes, it should have little to no impact on the Bruins overall defensive production in 2013. You are still looking at a defense that should finish well within the top 10 in the league and carry the Bruins to a good number of wins as it has done for the past several seasons.

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[1] an improving offense: http://www.prosportsblogging.com/2013/01/17/remember-the-offseason/

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