But with Zdeno Chara -- perhaps the most underrated outstanding player in recent Boston sports memory and someone who probably could give the Celtics a boost on the boards right now -- and the 6-1-1 Bruins taking on the 6-2 Canadiens Wednesday night in Montreal, I figured there's no better time for a hat trick's worth of observations on a team that should be a genuine championship contender ...
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You know the pattern. A promising young player makes a great first impression, and the second and third impressions are just as encouraging, maybe even dazzling, and all of a sudden he's an instant fan favorite drawing irresistible comparisons to the legends who played the same position for the same franchise before him.
It is not long after that there's something of a backlash, or at least a warning to put the brakes on the hype for a while. Often, this admonishment comes from the same people who were first in line to crank up the hyperbole. It is as frustrating as it is inevitable.
I bring this up because Dougie Hamilton, the Bruins' superb rookie defenseman, has been caught in that spin cycle lately, but with sort of a unique, meaningful twist. While some in the media have praised Hamilton and then cautioned against overpraising him pretty much within a couple of breaths, it's the words of his coach that offer the strongest indication yet that the belief Hamilton will be a franchise cornerstone is an accurate one.
"He's tall, and he's not going to run anybody through the boards," said Julien back on January 29. "But he's solid and he moves the puck well and sees the play well. I think everybody knows Larry was a pretty good player."
OK, maybe he wasn't exactly over the top. But he's talking about Hall of Famer Larry Robinson, one of the finest defensive blue liners in league history and someone who strikes you as conservative Claude's ideal of what a hockey player should be. That considered, excuse me while I believe every word of praise sent Hamilton's way.
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All right, so 25 of those came in 29 games when he played in Switzerland during the lockout. Seguin, who had 29 goals last year in his breakthrough second NHL season, has just one in the NHL this season, an empty-netter January 28 against the Hurricanes.
Given the expectations that were on the 21-year-old's shoulders when the season began, the drought is surprising, and you wonder if playing on the larger ice surface in Europe, which of course suits his elite speed and skill, has led to bad habits or at least a period of unexpected readjustment. He's scored on just one of 27 shots, which sounds like a bad night for Jason Terry pre-Rondo injury.
But is it alarming? Nah. Had this "slump" occurred from, say, games 25-32, it would barely register a line or two in Fluto's daily Bruins notebook. It's nothing a couple of goals tonight wouldn't cure. Seguin will be fine.
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While Brad Marchand's injury will deny us the opportunity to watch him and the Canadiens' PK Subban out-annoy each other -- that's one of the great love-him-on-you-team-loathe-him-as-an-opponent matchups in the league -- it does give Bruins fans a chance to get their first look at Ryan Spooner, who will be making his NHL debut, centering fellow recent callups Lane McDermid and Jamie Tardif.
Spooner is an interesting prospect -- he's exactly one day older than Seguin and was chosen 43 selections after him in the 2010 draft. He's a small, speedy, skilled forward who had nine goals and 21 assists at Providence this season, his first prolonged time at the AHL level after dominating in the Ontario Hockey League.
At the very least, he's evidence of real organization depth, which they've already needed with injuries to Shawn Thornton and Daniel Paille and will surely need again during this abbreviated, compact season.
According to HockeyFuture.com, he occasionally had a habit of showboating in juniors, but his on-ice intelligence has caught the attention of Julien.
The coach, it should be noted, has thus far resisted comparing him to Yvan Cournoyer.
About Touching All The Bases
Irreverence and insight from Chad Finn, a Globe/Boston.com sports writer and media columnist. A winner of several national and regional writing awards, he is the founder and sole contributor to the TATB blog, which launched in December 2004. Yes, he realizes how lucky he is.