Tuesday, October 25, 2011

P-Bruins Log: Hamill Looking More On Target

In the opening phases of the Providence Bruins season, nobody is taking the subtle, implied Zach Hamill ultimatum to heart more than Hamill himself.

Entering the final year of his entry-level contract with the Boston Bruins and slated to become a restricted free agent next summer, the former No. 7 overall draft choice is easily off to his best start in four seasons on the farm.

As the databases show, Hamill still has that prominent playmaking penchant from the full Rob Murray era. Ditto his average output under the shots-on-goal heading.

But along with that, in his first month under new head coach Bruce Cassidy, the shots-in-goal aspect is setting a promisingly unprecedented tone. While he has only tuned the opposing mesh in two individual games, with one being an empty netter, this is the first time he has scored more than once in the month of October.

Through eight games-played, Hamill has already charged up a team-best four goals and seven points on 18 registered shots. Contrast that with his 1-1-2 log with 15 SOG at the same point in his rookie year, his five assists and no goals on 20 shots in 2009-10 and his one solitary point with 15 shots and no strikes through last Halloween.

Most critically, Hamill is shooting at the right times and, in turn, finding more seams to exploit. His accuracy currently stands at 22.2 percent (4-for-18).

Moreover, Hamill’s first-time scoring celerity trumps his starts to any preceding professional campaign. Before this season, the earliest he had scored four goals was in 2008-09, when he sat out the first 15 games with an injury, then required 21 appearances to reach four strikes.

The following year, he hit the same plateau at the 27-game mark. The game in question was a Dec. 18 date with Bridgeport, although Hamill did have a somewhat respectable 11 assists by then.

Last season was, to say the least, the nadir of it all. Hamill’s first goal in 2010-11 fell in Game No. 15 (Nov. 19), his second on New Year’s Eve after 29 games.

His fourth strike? He cultivated that against Portland on Feb. 18, in his 46th appearance with Providence shortly after a brief call-up to Boston.

Granted, he had enjoyed his share of playmaking binges for a total of 25 helpers up to that point and 34 by season’s end. But that was accompanied by a career-low nine goals in 68 AHL games.

And while he improved his pace enough to tally six goals in the last 23 games of the season, his output was still sporadic, at best. After a three-game scoring streak in early March, he only activated one more red light in the last 13 ventures.

That excruciating inconsistency carried over into this year’s season-opening, three-game homestand. As the P-Bruins were blown out by a cumulative 15-3 tally in a troika of terrifying performances, Hamill was nowhere to be found on the scoresheet.

Since then, Providence has gone on a five-game point-getting streak with four consecutive victories and Sunday’s overtime falter versus Albany. In that span, the Bruins have outscored the adversaries, 15-9, with Hamill having a hand in barely less than half of those goals.

With the one cold spell and still-active hot streak, Hamill is on pace to finish with at least 66 points, assuming he does not miss a substantial portion of the AHL regular season.

Rigid mathematical calculations hold that he should insert up to 38 goals, but all things considered, anything between the upper 20s and lower 30s ought to suffice.

After all, in each of the last two seasons, the P-Bruins’ top scorer has turned in a 23-27-50 log (Mikko Lehtonen in 2009-10, Jamie Arniel last year). Their last 30-goal scorer was Pascal Pelletier in 2007-08.

And Hamill has never tuned the mesh any more than 14 times in a professional season. But this year ought to be different for the simple reason of the psychological springboard he has just built for himself these last two weekends.