Curtis Hamilton has made two years' worth of progress in four months. Hamilton, the Oilers' second round pick in 2010, missed two-thirds of the 2009-2010 season with injuries and saw his draft status slide to obscurity. But after his breakout performance at Canada's World Junior Camp, he's begun to dominate his competition. His NHLE shows a guy that should be able to play the NHL game, and his all around game has scouts talking about a long two-way career in the NHL.
If Hamilton can avoid injury, he should find himself in Oklahoma City to start the 2011 season, part of a pack of young players set to gain AHL eligibility next season. If he is the true two-way player scouts make him out to be, he should have a very clear path to the Edmonton OIlers' third line, a very short path if he's able to meet expectations in the AHL.
To gain some insight on Hamilton's game, I sat down for a conversation with Scott McDougall, the WHL Scout for The Scouting Report, a scouting service compiled by a network of writers throughout Canada. The authors from The Scouting Report have previously talked to us about both Acadie-Bathurst's Olivier Roy and the Ottawa 67s Ryan Martindale.
After the jump, Scott and I discuss Hamilton, his season thus far and the prospects for his future.
Copper & Blue: How many times have you seen
Scott McDougall, The Scouting Report: I’ve seen him 9 or 10 times spread out over the past three years.
C & B: He's 6'3", 202 lbs - does he use his size well?
TSR: Well he’s no power forward if that’s what you are thinking. He doesn’t fight or go look to make the big hit. In fact, the last I checked, Curtis had only 12 PIM over the past 50+ games. But that is not to say that Curtis plays small, rather he just uses his size as needed. He uses his big frame to protect the puck, to work the walls, and to hold his own in front of the net.
C & B: Can you describe his overall game?
TSR: Curtis is a hard-working two-way player that plays a simple North-South style of game. He isn’t flashy, but he plays smart, he sees the ice well, and he is a good skater, When pressured, he generally makes the right play. I’m not convinced he is skilled enough to be a top 6 forward at this point, but he should be valuable to Edmonton as a strong checking line winger with some upside.
C & B: Does he have the ability to create his own shot?
TSR: He isn’t the type to stickhandle through several players to get a scoring chance. He will have to rely on his senses to find openings and hope a teammate with the puck finds him. Either that or score on rebounds.
C & B: What is the strongest part of his game? Does he have any NHL-level skills yet?
TSR: He is very smart and responsible defensively. He is a player that a coach can trust. I believe that is what will get him to the NHL.
C & B: Does he have any NHL-level skills yet?
TSR: Well I think he is still a little ways away from the NHL right now and his skills reflect that. He is tracking well and given time, he should be a solid contributor.
C & B: What skill or trait is he going to struggle with, or what will hold him back?
TSR: I think Curtis may struggle with goal-scoring in the pro ranks. He should be able to chip in points here and there, but I think his lack of goal scoring ability could prevent him from becoming a Top 6 forward in Edmonton. Especially with some of the young skilled guys the Oilers now have on the wings. As for things that could hold him back, obviously his health is of concern. Last year was essentially a lost season as injuries hampered him for the majority of the year.
C & B: Is his recent scoring binge a surprise?
TSR: Well I find it a bit surprising that Hamilton is up near the top of the WHL leaderboards, but the fact that he is scoring shouldn’t come as too big of a shock as he seems to finally be healthy again. He had been one of the highest-scoring 16 year old players in all of the CHL the season prior to last year. Now that he’s healthy, Curtis is getting prime minutes and regaining his scoring touch at the WHL level. While it is nice to see him having some success, keep in mind that he is now one of the older players in the league and should be expected to produce at a high level.
That being said, there are a couple real positives for the Oilers right now. The first is that Hamilton looks like he is back on track. So far he hasn't had any injuries and he's producing like last year just didn't even happen. The second thing is that Hamilton is starting to be more patient with the puck which is resulting in more scoring chances.
C & B: His injuries obviously slowed him last year, if he was healthy for the entire season, where do you think he would have been drafted?
TSR: That's a pretty tough question to answer as there are so many uncertainties involved in answering it. His injuries definitely set him back and I believe Hamilton was drafted as high as he was almost purely based on what he proved as a 16 year old rather than what scouts saw from him last year. Last year really was a write off for him as he didn't really ever find his game the way he did as a 16 year old. Assuming that Hamilton would have been healthy and scoring at a rate somewhere between his 16 year old season and what we are seeing from him now, I think it would have been reasonable for him to be considered as a late 1st round pick.
C & B: At the World Juniors camp, he developed a reputation as a two-way player and a checker against elite talent. In fact, many believe he will make the team because of his two-way play - what are the odds of this?
TSR: Hamilton has represented Canada well in the past so that will work to his advantage, but he will still have to earn his spot as I don't think he's a lock to make the team. My guess is that if he plays like he can, he'll have a strong shot to make the team in a third or fourth line support role.
C & B: Is he playing on the penalty kill and if so, is his play superior compared to the rest of the league?
TSR: Hamilton does kill penalties for Saskatoon. He is a strong penalty killer and his anticipation is good enough to make him a short-handed threat as well.
C & B: Curtis is AHL eligible next season, do you think he's ready to move to the professional game, or do you think he'd be better served with another season in the WHL?
TSR: For the type of player he is, I think he is ready to move on to the pros. It will benefit him to be one of the younger guys in Oklahoma where he will face tougher competition versus coming back to Junior as an overager. However, his health can’t be ignored and if the Oilers feel he isn’t completely healthy for whatever reason then I don't think it would be such a bad thing to return him to Saskatoon since he is in a good situation there with ample playing time while playing for a strong Lorne Molleken-led team.
C & B: Thank you for your time.