Earlier today I wrote about Edmonton's decision to sign Brad Hunt, a player who had been coached by Craig MacTavish while with the Chicago Wolves in 2011-12. But Hunt wasn't the only player to use his connection with a former coach to sign a contract in Edmonton. Former Marlies, Ryan Hamilton and Will Acton, no doubt found their way to Edmonton on two-year two-way contracts in part because of their connection to new Oilers' head coach, Dallas Eakins. Neither player has earned much time at the NHL level thus far, but with Eakins as coach and a general manager committed to change in the bottom half of his forward contingent, both of them have probably the best opportunity of their respective careers.
Hamilton is a 28-year-old winger who played his junior hockey with the Barrie Colts of the OHL. Despite his visibility to scouts, he was never drafted, which shouldn't come as much of a surprise as he didn't put up his first point per game season at that level until he turned 20 years old. But that big season was enough to earn a contract from the Minnesota Wild, and he played in that organization for two and a half years before being traded to the Toronto Marlies during the 2008-09 season. Eakins would arrive at the start of the 2009-10 season, and help Hamilton to achieve his best two offensive seasons in the AHL during 2011-12 (27-29-56 in 91 GP) and 2012-13 (31-19-52 in 60 GP).
Hamilton was also the captain of the Marlies during those two seasons and earned some time in the NHL, filling in on account of injury for two games in 2011-12 and ten games in 2012-13. At 6'2'' and 230 pounds, Hamilton definitely has the kind of size that Craig MacTavish is looking for, and seems to have reasonable puck skills as well. If the Oilers are concerned at all about bringing players with good character into the room, Eakins is a huge supporter. This is what Eakins had to say about Hamilton in January just before the lockout ended:
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. He’s playing about as good a power-forward game as you can play at this level.... I think it’s always a danger, and it’s an easy thing to do at this level, as soon as the guy's done his second or third year pro he’s not a prospect anymore. 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.... Ryan Hamilton is a guy that’s worked so hard for everything he’s ever gotten. He’s the type of guy we want our organization to be known for.
It's quite high praise, and if the Oilers don't make any more moves on the wings this summer, I wouldn't be at all surprised to see Hamilton make the team out of training camp.
The other former Marlie that the Oilers signed is center Will Acton, the son of new associate coach, Keith Acton. Will Acton spent four years at Lake Superior State University before moving on to the AHL where he has completed two seasons with the Marlies. Acton will turn 26 next week, so he's a bit younger than Hamilton, but still quite a bit older than your typical prospect.
Acton has never been a great offensive player. Even as a 19-year-old in the Ontario Provincial Junior Hockey League, Acton scored just 29 points in 33 games, good for third on his team in points per game. In the AHL, he has 43 points over 162 games (0.27 points per game), which puts his offense just a little bit behind Chris Vande Velde (0.31).
I'd like to say that the lack of offense means Acton has virtually no chance of spending time in Edmonton, but Vande Velde played in 11 NHL games last year, and if anything, the Oilers depth chart up the middle has gotten weaker over the summer. If Craig MacTavish makes further additions, then Acton will be in tough, but if he doesn't and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins isn't ready to start the year, Acton will be battling with Anton Lander, Mark Arcobello, and Andrew Miller for two spots in the opening night lineup. At 6'2'' and 190 pounds, Acton has size on his side, as well as a coach that trusts him. It's a combination that may well get him to the NHL.