TORONTO– When the NHL lockout ends, Toronto Marlies’ head coach Dallas Eakins hopes that Ryan Hamilton gets a fair look with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
The 27-year-old forward has scored 10 goals in his last 11 games and since November has been Toronto’s most consistent player offensively. He now has 15 goals in 30 contests, which is good for sixth in league scoring, is on pace for a career high 38 goals and in late December broke the Marlies’ all-time record for career goals with 75.
“He’s a guy, I hope, will be in the mix when the conversations start as to who deserves a chance at the next level,” said Eakins. “He’s playing about as good a power-forward game as you can play at (the AHL) level.”
“In the back of my mind playing in the NHL has always been a dream but I also want to take it day by day,” said Hamilton about being a guy who could get a look from the his parent club when the time comes.
If the Leafs were playing at this time, they would likely be turning to younger prospects such as Matt Frattin, Nazem Kadri, Carter Ashton and Joe Colborne. However, Eakins believes that after seven seasons in the AHL that Hamilton’s ready for the next stage and that he’s earned his shot, despite being older than most names on radar.
“I think it’s always a danger, and it’s an easy thing to do at this level, as soon as the guys done his second or third year pro he’s not a prospect anymore,” said Eakins. “Well I don’t see it that way. You’re a prospect and you can go help the big club as long as you’re still playing here.”
Hamilton, who stands 6’2 and 230 pounds, has come a long way as a member of Toronto’s organization to get to a point where a decent shot at the NHL draws potential.
First acquired in 2009 from the Houston Aeros, Hamilton spent a major part of his early time in Toronto with injuries.
His most serious came in his first full season with the Marlies when he was diagnosed with an irregular heartbeat that caused him to miss a portion of the year.
“Whenever you deal with something like that, it’s pretty scary,” said Hamilton. “I wouldn’t be doing anything and (my heart) would flare up. I’d get dizzy and fatigued. It was getting worse and more frequent so once I told training staff they took care of me.”
Hamilton’s heart issue was taken care of with surgery and since then he has never had any issues or concerns with the muscle, but it wasn’t the only season he’d have taken away with an injury.
The following year, the Whitby, Ont. native only dressed in 47 games, two less than the season before, as his knee was blown out and needed surgery to repair.
Two years in Toronto, Hamilton had spent half the time injured and at 25-years-old his career had some uncertainty. But that all changed last season when Toronto chose to re-sign him based on what they saw when he was healthy.
At 26 years of age, Hamilton started last season by being named the Marlies’ new captain and he suited up in 74 games, the most he’d played since 2007 with the Aeros. He scored a career-high 25 goals, played in the AHL all-star game, led the Marlies to a Calder Cup appearance and finally made his long-awaited NHL debut.
“He’s had some horrible luck and last year was probably the healthiest year he had since I’ve been here,” said Eakins. “And it resulted in a great year.”
Everything that Hamilton had gone through was worth it when he got to experience NHL action on March 23rd against the New Jersey Devils, a game in which he would earn an assist.
“My dream is the NHL and I got my first NHL games last year and that was very special,” said Hamilton. “As soon as I heard from Dallas I was called up, it was an amazing feeling, a lot of emotion and happiness. After that it was a quick pack, a couple quick phone calls to family and friends and then it was off to Jersey.”
Much of Hamilton’s career has been full of adversity, from never being drafted to being a veteran AHLer with a busted leg. But, at 27-years-old, he has overcome the worst and is playing the best hockey of his life. He’s made it clear in the past he’s always been thankful that Toronto gave him a chance at the AHL level and he is returning the favor by giving the big club another potential option when the NHL season starts.
“Ryan Hamilton is a guy that’s worked so hard for everything he’s ever gotten,” said Eakins. “He’s the type of guy we want our organization to be known for.”