By Dan Hickling
Fifteen feet or so. Maybe 20 on a head-manned breakaway.
That’s about as far away a wing (left or right, take your pick) gets from his centerman. At most.
At other times, say when the center is threading the needle out front from behind the net, the gap dwindles to two, maybe three, maybe six feet.
All that to say that there isn't much difference in on-ice real estate between playing center and wing.
However, to Zach Hamill, making the move from the former to the latter has been a huge leap.
Perhaps even a career saver.
And salvation certainly seemed to be in order for the former first-round pick of the Boston Bruins (No. 8 overall in 2007), who seemed to spin his wheels while toiling in the middle for the Providence Bruins the last three years.
Many were ready to hang the “bust” label on the 23-year-old Hamill.
One who felt strongly otherwise was Bruce “Butch” Cassidy, who took over as head coach of the P-Bruins this year after three years as an assistant. It was Cassidy's idea to move the Vancouver native from center to the right flank.
“Butchy was the main guy that gave me that confidence to play the wing,” said Hamill. “The first couple of games was a struggle, but he’s been great to me since day one and he has stuck with me there and taught me some stuff.”
Hamill must have been paying attention because he started popping in goals like never before – five of them in Providence's first 14 games. That kind of production sent reverbs up the highway to Boston.
And, when B's winger Rich Peverley got banged up and had to sit out a couple of games, Hamill, who had received two brief call-ups during the previous three years, was summoned to Boston.
“I saw him play first-hand a few weeks ago,” said Boston coach Claude Julien, “and I really liked his game. I thought he was one of the better players on that team.”
Julien said he was impressed with the way that Hamill worked with center Chris Kelly and young left wing Jordan Caron during his two-game fill-in stint.
“He was a real smart player, made some great plays positionally,” Julien said. “You’ve got to give him credit because he’s played center most of his career, and how he’s adapted to the wing so quickly is pretty amazing, so he deserves a lot of credit for that.”
Credit worthy, too, is how Hamill handled his being returned to Providence, once Peverley was healthy again, as he scored his team-leading sixth goal in the P-Bruins' 3-2 win at Worcester.
Not that he has mastered the wing just yet. As with all reinventions, this one has come with a learning curve.
“Yeah, it’s obviously a different position and different things,” Hamill said. “The first couple of games was a struggle with something new, but as time has gone on it was pretty good. I think I’m just trying to get better at every game. On my own time (I) watch some NHL games, and watch guys similar to me and guys that I want to play like and see how they do on the wall.”
Hamill, who has had to work through periods of discouragement the past three years, is feeling good now about the future, and his place in it.
“Yeah, I’m just trying to get better here every day,” he said. “I think this year down in Providence, if there’s something to work on the ice, I stay out there after practice to work on it, and I think it’s kind of helped. It’s worked with me a little bit. The more I think I work on things the better I can be.”
Such a small distance, but such great strides.
Around the AHL
Hamill isn't the only P-Bruin with a hot hand. Rookie Carter Camper racked up four points (two goals, two assists) in two games over the weekend, and now has 12 points (four goals, eight assists), tops on the club. … Heading into the upcoming weekend, just four points separate the AHL's seven New England-based clubs (spread over two divisions). Providence, Connecticut and Bridgeport all have 17 points, while Portland, which notched a 3-2 come from behind win over Adirondack Tuesday, and Worcester both have 13. Springfield (16) and Manchester (15) are stacked in the middle of the pack.
Dan Hickling can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.