How does a 6’6, right-shot defenceman and younger brother taken ninth overall by Boston via misguided traded grow to be a top pairing defenceman for the Calgary Flames? The young core player on a team filled with them presumably rose his own stock by working a lot harder and being a lot smarter; by nineteen, he was already an NHLer.
It’s a shame, then, that the Bruins lost it again; dealt without sense from a desk in Massachusetts, Dougie Hamilton made his way out west. His first year in red saw him struggle, underestimated though worth far more than originally bargained for, but unable to prove it whilst being treated as a bottom pairing guy. What was he going to do on the bench?
A new coach, though, combined with a new chance and, well – aren’t the Flames lucky to have him right now?
2016-17 season summary
The season started poorly for several players, and that included Hamilton. Initially he was tasked with playing alongside Nicklas Grossmann, a move that led to the Flames being outgunned and outplanned through the early stages. A stand had to be made, and the solution was found: stop dividing the team’s good defencemen in hopes they would elevate the play of their lesser counterparts. And so, venerated veteran and team captain Mark Giordano ended up with a new right hand man: Hamilton.
That put a stop to some of the Flames’ overall bleeding, and helped Hamilton rise above his station, well en route to establishing himself as a premier young defenceman in this league.
Hamilton scored 13 goals and 50 points, both career highs. He averaged just 19:41 a game, though: fourth on the Flames, behind Giordano, T.J. Brodie, and for some reason, Dennis Wideman. It’s certainly difficult to see that continuing next season.
With just 183:31 played, Hamilton was only fifth in powerplay ice time, his shot underutilized. The 14 points he scored on the powerplay were tied for fifth alongside Giordano. He played just 71:38 on the penalty kill, 12th on the Flames, registering one assist as slower-footed defencemen were given priority over him (including Wideman again, for some reason). He has the potential to be an all situations defenceman, but only if the coaching staff gives him the chance to fan that spark into a flame.
One thing you can say about Hamilton: he never threw away his shot. His 222 shots throughout the season didn’t just lead the Flames; they were fifth most league-wide among defenceman, and 38th among the entire NHL. Give him the position; he has the ammunition for it, and he’s non-stop.
He did have a disappointing playoffs filled with penalties and just one assist over four games, but the Flames, as a whole, were incredibly snakebitten in their first round series. The team’s fourth highest scorer no doubt has more to offer.
Compared to last season
Via Corsica, it’s night and day.
Hamilton was a smart acquisition to begin with, but a year of underutilizing him hurt him; instead of his being promoted, it was guys like Wideman and Kris Russell (whee? Not the choice I would have gone with). Once he had a more competent coach to work under, though, and started being treated as a top player, he took off and never once looked back. Hamilton went from hovering around 50% CF in 5v5 situations in 2015-16 to consistently scoring well above it this past year, as his season-long 55.48% CF – third best on the team – attests to. Every action was an act of creating offence, always driving the play north and smashing expectations.
And remember: he’s only 23. This is just the beginning. He didn’t have the most difficult circumstances to work with, but it wasn’t as though he was sheltered, either: he didn’t frequently start in the offensive zone, and he usually faced the opposition’s top players.
Most common teammates
Via Corsica, Hamilton doesn’t affect any of his teammates negatively. Rather, they universally are worse off without him:
The 3M line was the least affected by his absence, but when they shared the ice, they had some of the absolute best results on the team; Hamilton’s presence on the ice with Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan worked out rather well, too.
As for his time with Giordano, at least from a corsi perspective, it appears Giordano was more helped by Hamilton than vice versa, but their results together can’t be denied: their work together created a formidable defence pairing. No one had more resilience or matched their practical, tactical brilliance – the neglected T.J. Brodie aside, but with just three good defencemen, someone had to be the odd man out.
Really, the only player Hamilton didn’t work with was Troy Brouwer, which is kind of a running theme at this point.
What comes next?
It’s his time to lead. His intention should be to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that he’s ready for prime time, all the time.
It’s not often defencemen like Hamilton come along. He was chosen ninth overall in his draft year for a reason: he’s an elite offensive talent who has already amazed and astonished over five seasons in the NHL, and he’s still coming of age with this young team.
Next season should see Hamilton blowing us all away with top pairing minutes, top powerplay time, regular penalty killing time, and in all likelihood, another 50-point season – at minimum; in all likelihood, more – while continuing to defend against top opposition.
He’s changed the Flames’ entire defensive makeup. Now, we’re seeing his ascendancy.
|#1 – Brian Elliott||#5 – Mark Giordano|
|#6 – Dennis Wideman||#7 – T.J. Brodie|
|#10 – Kris Versteeg||#11 – Mikael Backlund|
|#13 – Johnny Gaudreau||#17 – Lance Bouma|
|#18 – Matt Stajan||#19 – Matthew Tkachuk|
|#23 – Sean Monahan||#25 – Freddie Hamilton|
|#26 – Michael Stone|