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James Hamblin was 18 years young when he said goodbye to his mother Gina. Hamblin left to Boston for the Bruins rookie camp and a few days into camp Gina passed away. She battled pancreatic cancer and then it spread to her colon. James and his sister Paulina, along with their father Tim, grew closer after Gina’s passing, and father and son had a brief, but very emotional phone call yesterday when James told his father he was getting recalled to the Edmonton Oilers.
“There were a lot of tears,” said Hamblin. “At first I told him what Keith Gretzky told me. I have good news and bad news. The bad new is I’m not playing tonight (in Bakersfield), but the good news is I’m going up (to Edmonton). It was hard for me to even get those words out. I was basically crying through it. On the other end of the line he was feeling the same emotions. I’m so thankful for him and my mom and everyone around me. I wouldn’t be here without my mom. She was the light of my life, and my dad has been equally important.”
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Hamblin grew up in Edmonton and played with Stuart Skinner and Tyler Benson every few years. Benson and Skinner are one year older, and this morning all three were on the ice together as members of the Edmonton Oilers.
“It is wild,” smiled Hamblin. “Coming into the organization it was nice to have them, and I came with Benson from Bakersfield yesterday so that was special. To have them in the room is huge for me.”
Hamblin wasn’t drafted. In his first year of eligibility, he produced 23-24-47 but was overlooked. Two years later in his final year of draft eligibility, he scored 33-44-77, but still no team called his name. As a 20-year-old he scored 92 points and that earned him an AHL contract with the Bakersfield Condors.
And late last year during his second season with the Condors, Hamblin signed a two-year, two-way deal with the Oilers for the start of the 2022/2023 season. Hamblin never gave up on his dream of being a professional hockey player, and tonight he will fulfill his NHL dream in front of his father, sister, his grandma and other close friends and family.
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It wasn’t the usual path, but it was Hamblin’s, and he’s proud of it.
“In the back of my mind, I’ve always believed in myself that I could get here,” said Hamblin. “I’ve also had lots of people who believed in me. My mom, my dad and I have a big circle of support. They never stopped believing in me, and even when I doubted myself they kept believing in me. I’ve had to work hard the entire time. I’ve always had to work hard and I think that makes it easier coming in today because I don’t have to change how I play. I can just be the player I’ve always been.”
I asked Hamblin to give me the scouting report on himself.
“I’m going to work hard. I’m going to try and create turnovers as much as possible. I’m going to be in the right spots. I’m good defensively so I will be coming back and I’m going to take pucks to the net and try to be a pest.”
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He knows his game well and so does head coach Jay Woodcroft.
“He’s relentless,” said Woodcroft. “I don’t think you get to the NHL without the mindset of being relentless at his size. He is gifted with a high hockey IQ so he gets to the right spots on the ice and that was what I noticed most when coaching him.”
Tonight will be a special and emotional night for the Hamblins as they watch James fulfill his dream while wishing Gina could be with them.

GDB PRESENTED BY BETWAY

LINEUPS…

Oilers

Draisaitl – McDavid-Hyman
Janmark – RNH-Puljujarvi
Holloway – Malone-Hamblin
Kostin – Shore-Ryan
 
Nurse – Ceci
Kulak – Barrie
Broberg – Bouchard
 
Skinner
These aren’t official, just my projection based on morning skate, last game combinations and player availability. Woodcroft might start the game with Puljujarvi on the top line as he did in New York, but he moved Hyman there during the game and I’d keep him there.
Warren Foegele is day-to-day. Ryan McLeod will be out at least one week, likely longer as he injured his leg on his second last shift in New York. Kailer Yamamoto is getting closer. He skated yesterday and today with the team and he’s eligible to come off IR at any point this week.

Panthers…

Cousins – Bennett – Tkachuk
Verhaeghe – Lundell – Reinhart
Heponiemi – Luostarinen – White
Lomberg – Staal – Hornqvist
Forsling – Ekblad
Staal – Montour
Mahura – Gudas
Knight
Sasha Barkov is out with an illness and didn’t travel with the Panthers. That is a big blow to their centre depth and is why I think Jay Woodcroft will start McDavid and Draisaitl together.
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Sergei Bobrovsky is struggling in goal for the Panthers, and even though it wasn’t confirmed at morning skate I think we see Spencer Knight between the pipes tonight.

TONIGHT…

Photoshop: Tom Kostiuk
GAME DAY PREDICTION: Edmonton builds off its third period comeback in New York and sweeps the season series for the first time since 2017. Edmonton wins 3-2.
OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: Oilers score a PP goal. Their PP ranks second at 29.2%, while Florida is 22nd on the PK at 76.3%.
NOT-SO-OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: Holloway scores a goal for the second consecutive game.