BOSTON — With the TD Garden lights dimmed, smoke machines shooting and music blaring, Dougie Hamilton took the ice for the first time as an NHL player.
The 19-year-old Bruins defenseman skated out to a thunderous ovation from a sellout TD Garden crowd. Moments later, he would hop over the boards and make his NHL debut in Boston’s 3-1 win over the Rangers.
All in all, not a bad night for a kid.
“It’s a dream come true,” Hamilton said after his first game. “Ever since I was a little kid I dreamt of that moment, and I’m just happy that it came true. All you can do is really enjoy it.”
It was a pretty solid debut for the No. 9 pick in the 2011 draft. Hamilton logged 13:40 of ice time on 19 shifts, with a good chunk of that time (4:25) coming on the power play. Perhaps just as importantly, Hamilton showed that he can be more than an offensive defenseman, getting his stick in the right place to break up a 2-on-1 chance in the third period in front of Tuukka Rask and the Boston net.
“You know again, it was a matter of him getting through it, and if anything, like I said, he seemed to get more and more comfortable as the game went on,” Bruins head coach Claude Julien said. “And as I mentioned this morning, what this guy lacks is experience, and the only way he’s going to get it is by playing. But everything else was there, and you know he’s used to playing against 16- to 20-year-olds and now he’s playing against men. And I thought he handled the corners and battles pretty well.”
Experience is the only thing that’s going to really help Hamilton’s evolution, and it speaks volumes that the Bruins are comfortable throwing Hamilton out there right away in what’s going to be a furious sprint to the playoffs.
Making the transition easier for Hamilton, no doubt, is playing alongside a group of veterans — a battle-tested club that knows how to win.
“They’re all being nice to me, just making me feel comfortable,” Hamilton said. “It’s easy coming to the rink every day when they’re all making me feel welcomed and making me smarter and things like that. So far, it’s been real good.”
The most encouraging thing about Hamilton’s play on Saturday night is that there were no plays where he stood out in a negative way. Those will come, of course, as it’s all part of the maturation process for a teenager in the NHL.
That process, as everyone knows, comes with some pretty lofty expectations. Following Saturday’s morning skate, Julien set the bar pretty high for Hamilton. Like, really high.
“I don’t think he has a weakness, more than the only weakness that he has is his lack of experience, and we’ve got to allow him to get that,” Julien said. “We like where he is. We like what he’s brought so far. You’ve seen lots of guys come into the league the same way he has and do well and we expect him to be that guy.”
Hamilton took the first step toward being that guy on Saturday night.