Jets need lesson from Boston on rookie development

The Winnipeg Jets faithful got their first glimpse of what-could-have-been during a 3-2 loss against the Boston Bruins at the MTS Centre Sunday night.
Boston Bruins' goaltender Tuukka Rask is congratulated by John Boychuk (55), Patrice Bergeron (37) and Dougie Hamilton (27) following the win against the Winnipeg Jets' on Feb. 17. (Trevor Hagan/Canadian Press)

The Winnipeg Jets faithful got their first glimpse of what-could-have-been during a 3-2 loss against the Boston Bruins at the MTS Centre Sunday night.

The team played opposite Dougie Hamilton, a six-foot-five, 200-pound defenceman the Jets passed up in the 2011 NHL entry draft. Their choice instead: Mark Scheifele.

"It doesn’t mean anything to me," said Hamilton, 19. "I couldn’t even tell you who passed up on me. That doesn’t even go through my mind."

Jets fans likely wish they could say the same.

Hamilton was projected to go top-six in the 2011 draft. NHL Central Scouting, an agency responsible for ranking all North American born players, had him fourth on their list.

The odds Hamilton would fall to the seventh spot where the newly-revived Jets were slated to choose, was unlikely.

But when Hamilton was still up for grabs, the Jets took Scheifele in the first round.

"I’ve gotten to know him the past couple years through World Juniors and Super Series, and we get along pretty well and we’re pretty good friends," said Hamilton. "I kind of wish I was playing him."

Instead, Scheifele was re-assigned to the Barrie Colts of the OHL earlier this month.  In four games with the Jets, he finished with zero points, spending most of his ice time with the fourth line.

Hamilton, on the other hand, entered Sunday’s game against the Jets having played in each of Boston’s 12 games, averaging 18:48 of ice-time and scoring six points (1g, 5a).

Hamilton’s been given a chance to prove his ability to play a smart and defensive game at both ends of the ice.

"He’s a young player who moves the puck really well. He sees the ice really well and he has good size," said Jets forward Blake Wheeler.

Wheeler spent three seasons under coach Claude Julien in Boston before being traded to the Atlanta Thrashers midway through the 2010-2011 year. He’s not at all surprised with the role Boston has given Hamilton.

"That’s something they do," said Wheeler. "I think they put their young guys in a position to be successful and that’s why most of the time the guys that they call up and put in those positions do well."

It’s this kind of treatment that many in Jetsland wish was given to Scheifele this season.

Jets head coach Claude Noel has insisted there’s a process for Scheifele and continued development in the juniors is the best move. 

Meanwhile, Hamilton has earned the trust of his head coach. He plays on Boston’s second defensive pairing alongside Dennis Seidenberg and is tasked nightly with shutting down the opposing team’s top lines. He’s also earned notable minutes on the powerplay.

"He has the potential to become, without a doubt, an elite defenceman in this league," said Julien following a Saturday practice at the MTS Iceplex.

"For a first year player, he’s given us more than we expected so we’re really pleased with that."

Hamilton has returned the favour. He currently sits first amongst rookie defenceman in assists (5), second in points (6) and second in shots (33).

"I’m happy with the opportunity I’ve been given," said Hamilton. "I just try to make the most of it and that’s what I got to keep on doing."

With Sunday’s loss, the Jets fall to 5-8-1 on the year. What’s worse is that the Jets will play their next nine of 11 games on the road.

If there’s any hope in this team turning things around in the future, perhaps it’s worth taking a note or two from Boston’s book on how to foster young talent.