BEDFORD — The Bruins Prospect Development Camp is becoming old hat for B’s center Zach Hamill. The 20-year-old former first-round pick is in Boston this week for this third development camp, and knows that this is a pivotal upcoming season for him.
That’s the big picture focus for Hamill going through this summer, but the small picture consists of Hamill being a leader of this particular group of puck-shooting youngsters — a role that comes naturally to the older, wiser Hamill with fresh faces like Jordan Caron, Ben Sexton and Ryan Button among the few invited to the camp.
“It’s the third time coming around for me,” said Hamill. “I remember being a first-timer at this camp — like some of these guys are now — and guys like (David) Krejci and (Matt) Lashoff helped me when I was that age. Now I’m trying to be that guy helping (the younger guys).”
After fighting through a thumb injury and the necessary adjustments for an undersized, still-maturing skill player navigating through professional hockey, Hamill ended with a modest 26 points (13 goals, 13 assists) in 65 games. The B’s front office wants to see more development in Hamill’s game next season, and is expecting greater production and some leadership qualities out of their prized pick from the 2007 draft.
“The injury obviously set him back, and the fact he was a first year pro — and he was trying to make that impression — that’s a difficult thing to adjust to. I think he made some really good progress and we had a real good talk with him around Christmas-time as to where he thought he would be and where he envisioned himself — as opposed to where he was,” said Bruins Director of Player Development Don Sweeney. “I think he made some really good strides in the second half and he’ll continue to be able to play against men. It’s not the easiest thing in the world to play at that size against guys that just keep getting bigger and bigger and stronger.
“But we like that he’s got a good head for the game, and they’re not going to be able to ever take that away from him. He has an understanding of playing both sides of the puck and can play defense with that awareness. If you put Zach Hamill as a freshman in college (right now) you’d say he’s on the right path. So you don’t look past the fact that he’s played one year of pro and he’s on the right path. He’ll continue to get better.”
The 5-foot-11, 190-pounder started slowly with the aforementioned injury — a badly strained thumb that still stiffens up on him from time to time and could take up to an entire year to fully heal — but finished up strong before registering a goal and five assists in 16 Calder Cup playoff games.
The eighth overall pick in the 2007 draft knows he needs to be better next season, and has to begin to show the playmaking skill and high hockey IQ that made him such a bright prospect while playing for the Everett Silvertips in the Western Hockey League. Part of Hamill’s plan is to construct a blueprint based on the success he saw Krejci enjoy in a breakout NHL season that saw him lead the entire league in +/- and become the center of a pivotal second scoring line for the Bruins.
Hamill sees a player with very similar size and very similar skill set in Krejci, and he wants to emulate that toughness on the puck that’s a real hallmark of the small-ish Krejci’s game against much bigger, much stronger opponents looking to knock his block off
“For me getting bigger, stronger and faster is (the focus this summer) and I’ve done that,” said Hamill, who is clearly going to be judged this season as to whether he could step into the Bruins fold should the price tag become too steep to resign All-Star center Marc Savard. “I want to be a better skater and a better shot. Stuff like that. I want to get 5-10 pounds of that good weight, and the guy I really look at in that regard is Krejci.
“He’s kind of not an overly big guy, but he’s got that hockey strength and that core strength and he’s really got that part of it mastered. Just looking him in street clothes and in workout stuff, I want to pattern myself after him and he’s really got that strength on the ice to battle guys that are much bigger than him. He’s able to keep the puck away from them and that’s what I want to do.”
The desire and the talent are there for Hamill to take the “Krejci Way” to the Bruins and the NHL, and now he must prove it next season during a season-long audition for a future spot in the Black and Gold lineup. That started on Tuesday during the first day of testing at the development camp, and it shouldn’t stop until he’s opened all the right eyes over 82 games next winter.