Boston Bruins fans held their collective breath last Monday as Dennis Seidenberg left the ice a minute into Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals against the Toronto Maple Leafs. Seidenberg joined teammates Andrew Ference and Wade Redden on a growing list of injured Bruin blue liners. The loss of three veteran defenders has meant that the Bruins have had to turn to young prospects to fill the void.
Dougie Hamilton, Matt Bartkowski and most recently Torey Krug have been called up over the course of the playoffs and have excelled. The explosiveness of these three young players has helped spark the Bruins, pushing them past a tough Toronto squad and into a commanding 2-0 series lead over the New York Rangers. So who are these three youngsters who have stepped into arguably the league's biggest spotlight?
Hamilton is probably the most familiar to Bruins fans. The 19-year-old Toronto, Ontario native was the Bruins first overall pick in the 2011 entry draft and made his NHL debut earlier this season against the Rangers. Hamilton spent most of this season with the Bruins appearing in 42 of 48 games. While Hamilton has had a solid rookie campaign, netting five goals and adding 11 assists, he was criticized throughout the season for mental lapses and inconsistent play and ultimately was replaced by Redden as the Bruins entered the playoffs. Since returning to the lineup Hamilton has been fantastic. Joining Zdeno Chara on the first defensive pairing-- and also getting some time on the second powerplay unit -- Hamilton has taken advantage of his size, power and raw talent while limiting his mental mistakes, proving he can play in big games. seventh
Bartkowski was selected in the seventh round of the 2008 NHL entry draft by the Florida Panthers and came to the Bruins in the same trade that brought Seidenberg to Boston. Since then, Bartkowski has spent the majority of his time in the AHL with the Providence Bruins. It was there that Bartkowski made a name for himself as a solid defender and as a result, was the first of the Bruins young defenders to see time in the playoffs. Not normally a prolific scorer, Bartkowski has notched a goal and an assist in his four playoff games and has been playing with Johnny Boychuk on the second defensive pairing in addition to receiving time on the second powerplay with Hamilton. Probably the best pure defender of the three, Bartkowski is a known commodity who has the stuff to be a consistent Top 4 defender
Finally, and perhaps most exciting has been the emergence of Torey Krug. The 22-year-old Michigan State alum was an undrafted free agent who was signed by the Bruins in March of last year. Krug only appeared in one game for the Bruins during the regular season. Despite all of that, in the playoffs Krug has shown a scorer's touch and fantastic skating ability scoring two goals and adding an assist in two games against the Rangers. Although undersized, Krug has also shown solid defensive instincts breaking up a few key plays and throwing his body around. In yesterday's victory over the Rangers, Krug showed excellent stick work, kicking a pass off his skates to set himself up for a goal from the slot and adding an assist on a similar move when a puck he fired from the blue line was buried by Gregory Campbell. While Krug still has a lot to prove, he has shown some incredible offensive skills in his brief call-up and could be a solid asset to the Bruins moving forward.
These three youngsters have given a much needed spark to a Bruins squad that was floundering entering the playoffs. They've certainly been aided by the revelation in net that is Tuukka Rask but there is no denying that their speed and energy allowed the Bruins to contain scorers Phil Kessel of the Leafs and (so far) Rick Nash of the Rangers.
Whether their consistency and quality of play is an enigma or here to stay remains to be seen, however, they have been a crucial part of the Bruins' playoff success thus far. As Redden and Seidenberg stand poised to rejoin the team it's likely that these young defenders will return to the bench, but in either case, Boston's blue line is in good hands for the foreseeable future.