It all started so well: a second round draft pick of the Edmonton Oilers and a part of Northern Alberta’s latest rebuild—this time on the ice at Rexall Place. Hamilton celebrated with an outstanding final season in junior (which included the World Junior experience representing Canada) and turned pro in the fall of 2011. Two and a half years later, Curtis Hamilton hasn’t progressed and is nearing the end of his entry level deal. What’s next?
- Hamilton could play well enough during the rest of this season to earn a second contract. His entry level deal expires in the spring, but he’s still 6.02, 214 and can skate, so there’s a market for him if he can deliver some offense. That’s been a problem during his time in the AHL, Hamilton has played 112 regular season games and has scored 10-12-22 (or 16 points per 82 games). So far this season he’s been in a strictly fourth line role and that isn’t going to get it done. More than anything, Hamilton needs to take advantage of any opportunity given to move up the depth chart. There’s no real way of knowing when that chance will come, but it’s a long season and if he can chip in and establish value coach Todd Nelson will use him more (the Barons aren’t the 1987 Oilers, they have holes and opportunities).
- Hamilton could find employment with another NHL team and try his luck in another organization. Stranger things have happened, sometimes a new look or perspective is all a player needs to transform his game and begin heading in the right direction. Hamilton was a fairly high draft pick, there will be interest in him should the Oilers choose to let him go at the end of his entry level deal.
- Hamilton could head to Europe, which can sometimes be very beneficial for young players trying to find their way. A different style of game and less actual games (some Euro league practice all week and play mostly on weekends) might give him a chance to work on aspects of his game that are currently wanting. More than a few useful NHL players have gone this route, and recent examples include BJ Crombeen and Jesse Joensuu.
In July 2013, Bruce McCurdy wrote an interesting article over at the Cult of Hockey and gave a very interesting view on Hamilton and his career progress:
- McCurdy: By eye Hamilton impresses as a competent defensive player, at times reminding this observer of a young Fernando Pisani. That said, I never actually saw the young Fernando Pisani, who was 26 and nearly fully developed by the time he made the Oilers, having no doubt suffered many of his growing pains while playing four years of NCAA hockey. For a youngster like Curtis Hamilton who has chosen to go the major junior/minor pro route, the path of expectations is accelerated even as it can take years for someone of his player type to mature into a useful contributor. And in order to make it as a two-way guy, some sign of offence is still essential. 20 points in 102 pro games doesn’t cut it at any age.
He’s played 10 AHL games since then and has 2 points, pretty much identical to his career numbers.
WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?
From a distance it’s tough to tell what’s gone wrong here. Todd Nelson hasn’t seen enough in this player to move him up the depth chart and Hamilton hasn’t done enough to force the issue. I can’t comment on Hamilton’s playing style—is he avoiding the tough areas, is he getting 8 minutes a night—but these last two-and-a-half seasons have the look of wasted time.
One thing that we’ve heard to be true since Craig MacTavish took over—a renewed emphasis on development of the high draft picks—has yet to shine a light on Hamilton. He is slotted on to the second line tonight, perhaps we’ll see something come of it.
Curtis Hamilton is healthy now and has about 50 games opportunity to show the Oilers he’s worth another contract. There’s not much to recommend him, but there was a time when he was judged to be among the 50 best draft eligible teenagers on the planet.
We wait, but not much longer.
(Hamilton photos by Rob Ferguson, all rights reserved)