The Edmonton Oilers Prospect Report: James Hamblin’s 2022-23 Season Review

Photo credit:Bakersfield Condors/Twitter
Bruce Curlock
7 months ago
This season review might be the template for many season reviews for many forwards in the Edmonton Oilers organization for years to come. Given the elite talent at the top end of the Oilers roster, the forward prospect group pushing will have to be focused on making the bottom part of the Oilers’ forward group.
These season reviews might also be the most important ones for the organization. With the NHL headed to a NBA style of salary cap where the top end of the rosters commands most of the dollars, it will be imperative for teams to have quality prospects to fill out the roster at cheap cap numbers and still outperform the competition. This is the path in front of James Hamblin.

What Did I See?

Hamblin is not an unknown quantity to Oilers fans. He spent a month with the Edmonton Oilers getting into ten games at the start of the season. He failed to register a point in those ten games playing a little less than nine minutes per game in that time. While his scoresheet stats did not stand out, he did record some favorable fancies. His expected goals for was 51.4% while essentially breaking even on his shots for metrics according to Natural Stat Trick. More impressively, our good friends at PuckIQ.com (a resource I highly recommend) drill down even deeper in these areas. Hamblin’s numbers against what could be his expected competition most of the time, the bottom one or two lines, were outstanding. His DFF% or Dangerous Fenwick, a number that has as good or better correlation than xGF% for goal prediction, was at 67.6%. A simply outstanding number. A number that exceeded every other Oiler forward including McDavid and Draisaitl albeit in a very, very small sample size for him.
Hamblin eventually went back to Bakersfield and finished the season there. To me, this is where we will find out about James Hamblin. He got a taste. Now it is what did he do with it. Let’s see below.

It All Begins In The DZone

James Hamblin’s ticket to the NHL will be determined by two critical aspects of the game. The first is the defensive zone. If you want to play in the NHL in the bottom six forwards, you need to be able to defend. I’m relatively comfortable that Hamblin can do so with one modest caveat.
Here is a clip of two sequences of Hamblin in the defensive zone. The first is a 5v6 situation. Watch Hamblin’s reads and his reaction to the play. He’s aware in advance of where the danger is and he does well to attack when he sees opportunities.
When possession is lost he starts by returning to the middle of the ice to defend the dangerous area. This is all high-puck sense stuff from Hamblin. The second piece is a wonderful example of his skills in the faceoff circle (he’s good at it) and then how well is plays the middle of the ice through all three zones.

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Again, here is another example of Hamblin taking care of his own zone first and having it lead to an opportunity on offence. First, you’ll see Hamblin on the defensive side of the puck and in the middle of the ice. Never a bad idea for a center. He blocks the shot incoming and then controls the puck for an exit, then watch the brains kick in.
Instead of taking the puck outside or passing it early outside, he stays in the middle of the ice and carries it which gives the defenders three plays to defend. Passes to either wing or Hamblin with a middle entry. He makes a great pass at the blueline sending his teammate on the attack (yes that was a penalty).

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There is no question that in terms of defensive acumen, James Hamblin has NHL translatable skills. He understands how to play defensively in all three zones. His faceoff skills are certainly good enough. He competes on every puck.

You Always Talk About Offence, Bruce!

You’re right. Playing ten games in the NHL without registering a point isn’t ideal. His point totals in Bakersfield were 10-18-28 in 52 games to go with 116 shots. This was a downdip from the 21-14-35 in 64 games in 2021-22, he did have a better points per game average this year. There are offensive skills with Hamblin. I think if he makes a dent at the NHL level, it will require someone else on the line to put the puck in the net. It’s not that he cannot score. His junior career was strong offensively and you can see the hands from time to time in the AHL.

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However, he does not possess a shot that will allow him to score a goal from outside. So scoring will likely look a lot like this type of play.

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Hamblin is a pit bull on the ice and he will go to hard areas all the time. Goals for him will more likely be of this type.
Where I think Hamblin can contribute offensively is with both his vision and his understanding of soft areas on the ice. Watch this great little play where Hamblin slides into a pocket to receive a pass and then immediately finds a teammate in a better spot.

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Slot Him In?

Well, that’s a tougher call. The one easy aspect of his game that needs more oomph is scoring. He has to score more in the AHL to make the jump. It isn’t enough the play defence. Oilers fans have lived enough games in their life watching the bottom six not score. Hamblin will need to ramp up his scoring to make an impact.
The second challenge for Hamblin is he’s a small-stature player for a center. Certainly, that has not stopped Derek Ryan from having a tremendous career. The rub is what if you have Hamblin and Ryan together? Is their combined size problematic?
The third challenge is Hamblin is a left-hand center. The Oilers are filled with left-hand centers who could be with them for a long time. So will his handedness cause him grief? If so, could he make the adjustment to wing at the NHL level. Again, that’s tough for a smaller player.
Now, it is not all tough sledding. Jay Woodcroft is a big fan of this player. Woodcroft could have asked for one of several players to come up in November and Hamblin his guy. He’s known him for three years and played him in every situation possible in their time together in Bakersfield.
The other aspect of his game that helps. He penalty kills. The bottom six forwards need to contribute in a multitude of ways. Hamblin can kill penalties. In his 10 games, Hamblin averaged a shift per game on the penalty kill. In Bakersfield, he was often the first option for his team.

The Final Verdict?

James Hamblin was an unsigned free agent out of junior hockey. That he’s played ten games in the NHL is a success all on its own. Could he play more? Yes, I am certain he can. Will it be in Edmonton? That’s less certain for me.
Not because Hamblin doesn’t have the skills to play a bottom-six role. It’s the other facets like his size and handedness combined with the current Oiler setup that could block his path. Whether Hamblin is an Oiler in fall or not, it is this type of player that the Oilers will need each year of the McDavid and Draisaitl years.
Multi-faceted, low-cost players who can outscore their opponents and provide specialty teams play. James Hamblin has already overcome a lot. Look forward to seeing him surprise even further this coming season.
That’s it for this week folks. Feedback at Twitter or Threads using bcurlock or right here below! See you next week.

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