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Dougie Hamilton ready for NHL debut

01.19.13 at 12:20 pm ET
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Dougie Hamilton has been waiting to play in the NHL. (AP)

It’s cliche to say that every young hockey player dreams of one day being in the NHL, but it’s true. Dougie Hamilton will finally realize his dream when he takes the ice Saturday night at TD Garden against the Rangers.

Hamilton, 19, comes into the NHL with some big expectations. The 6-foot-5 blueliner was drafted with the ninth overall pick in 2011 and dominated the OHL last season with 72 points (17 goals, 55 assists) in 50 games.

Maybe Hamilton will deal with nerves (often times veterans will tell young players to try to hit someone as soon as possible on their first shift to get it out of their system and get comfortable), or maybe there will just be excitement. Hamilton doesn’t know exactly what it will feel like, but he’s guessing he’ll like it.

“I’m sure I’ll have a smile on my face,” Hamilton said after Saturday’s morning skate. “It’s a dream come true for me. The opportunity is really special, and I’m just going to enjoy it as much as I can.”

Hamilton’s parents will be in town for the Ontario native’s debut after catching brother Freddie Hamilton‘s game for the Worcester Sharks Friday night. Dougie didn’t go to Friday’s Worcester game, electing to rest up for what figures to be a big day. Though he may have felt like a kid on Christmas Eve, Hamilton said he “slept great.”

Claude Julien hasn’t hidden the fact that he has quite a bit of faith in the 19-year-old. In addition to putting him on an important pairing with Dennis Seidenberg, Julien has trusted Hamilton with a spot on the team’s second power-play unit.

This is the same coach who took heat (much of it unfair) for not playing Tyler Seguin enough on the power play in his rookie year, but Julien clearly likes what Hamilton brings to the table even as a rookie, and he wants to see as much of it right away as possible.

If the mistakes come from the rookie, they come. Julien would rather Hamilton play his game and learn as he goes than take a timid approach.

“If he’s still here, it’s because he’s good enough to play,” Julien said of Hamilton. “I think you’ve got to allow players to go out there and play. You’ve heard me say that before: Go out there and play. I’d rather pull him back than have to push him. So he’s got to go out there with confidence, and he’s got to go out there knowing that we have the confidence in him, and just play his game.”

Hamilton projects to be a top-pairing defenseman one day and has drawn comparisons to former Norris Trophy winner Rob Blake. He still needs to fill out his frame (he’s a bit lanky at 199 pounds, though both Seidenberg and Zdeno Chara have each gained 20 or more pounds since coming into the league as rookies) and adjust to the physical demands of the league, among other things, but Julien looks at Hamilton’s game and sees NHL experience as the only thing missing.

“He’s a pretty good all-around defenseman. What he’s got to do is gain some experience, and that will only come with time,” Julien said. “I think we all know he’s got the size, we all know he can move the puck well. We all know he skates well, we all know he’s got great hockey sense, so where is his weakness? I don’t think he has a weakness more than the only weakness he has is his lack of experience. We’ve got to allow him to get that.

“We like where he is, we like what he’s brought so far, and you’ve seen lots of guys come in the league the same way he has and do well, and we expect him to be that guy.”

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