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Hamilton's game continues to improve, as does his offensive flare

by GEORGE JOHNSON @GJohnsonFlames /

Turns out, Dougie Hamilton can drop more - much more - than cheeky photo-bombs during teammates' TV time.

"His shot,'' reckons Mark Giordano, "is right up there. As good as anyone's in the league.

"Not a lot of slappers or big wind-ups. What he has is a great ability of getting shots through to the net from the point.

"And that's the whole point, right?

"It isn't easy to do in today's game, believe me. You see more and more emphasis on blocking shots and getting into lanes.

"When Dougie jumps up in the rush and gets the puck in the slot, he's deadly, too. Wrist shots, snap-shots, whatever you want to call 'em.

"So it doesn't surprise me, where he's at. I think it'd be pretty cool."

Where Hamilton happens to be at right at the moment is leading the NHL lead in goals among D-men.

He has 16, one better than Nashville's PK Subban, Florida's Aaron Ekblad and St. Louis's Alex Pietrangelo. 

If he can finish atop the heap, Hamilton would become only the third Flame D-man - joining Al MacInnis (28, in both 1990-91 and '93-94, along with Dion Phaneuf, 21, in 2006-2007) - to lead the loop in goal production over the course of a season.

The man himself doesn't sound overly obsessed with the possibility, though.

"They don't give out a trophy or anything for it, do they?" he parries with a shrug.

"There's so much luck involved in scoring. So I don't think about it too much. If it happens, fine. If it doesn't … The (added) powerplay time makes a difference. You're getting more looks and things like that.

"I like to score. Who doesn't? We all grow up wanting to be that guy. But as long as someone on the team scores, that's fine.

"Just keep doing things the right way and see where it takes you."

That ability to get pucks through that Giordano spoke of is reflected in the NHL's shots-on-goal stat. Hamilton is currently second among blueliners with 245, and trailing only San Jose's Brett Burns, at 290.

That's already higher than last season's aggregate SOB total of 220.

"I don't know if it's my best year,'' Hamilton reckons. "I've been happy with the last couple. But the goal is to improve every year, work on certain things over the summer and improve your game."

If Hamilton seems somewhat allergic to pumping the ol' tires, his D-partner is naturally only too happy to doing some inflating on his own.

"His talent,'' says the captain, "is obvious. That's no secret to anyone. He has everything. Skating. Shot. He's big and strong.

"Where he's getting better is realizing how big and strong he can be, knocking guys down, separating them from pucks.

"In my opinion, in the last couple years - and this season especially - that's where he's really gaining ground, getting a lot better."

Flames' assistant coach Dave Cameron notes the improvement, too.

"Gio's a great player to be partnered with, obviously, but Dougie's just elevated his overall game," says Cameron. "And that's what it's all about. This is an everyday, getting-better-all-the-time league.

"He's performing at an elite NHL level.

"I don't care how much talent you come in with, it's a process. Ask the best guys. Very few came in and didn't need some time to 

"It's the best league in the world for a reason. You need to put in the work. And Dougie's putting in the work.

"The challenge is consistency. You hear people say: 'Playing your best for 82 games …' Well, nobody can perform at the top of their game for 82 games, not with the contact, the speed, the skill, injuries.

"But the real good guys, when they're not at their top, they don't dip very far. Unless you're really watching you don't catch the dip.

"So the biggest thing with Dougie is the elevation in his consistency."

Away from the rink, Hamilton's dedication to charity is well-known. His frequent visits to the Alberta Children's Hospital, particularly the Halloween visits, are near and dear to his heart. In those, he is the organizer, the initiative, the engine.

"It's something I enjoy doing,'' he says. "It was tough at the start of the year. I lost a friend in Thea (Roelofsen), a very courageous little girl, to cancer. I still think about her a lot, still see her family.

"Any chance you get to go out and maybe brighten someone's day, you don't let it pass by. It's awesome to see the kids, see them smiling. Just try to help them, give them some good memories. When they're going through tough times, it's kind of a distraction for them.

"Whenever you're at hospitals, it puts in perspective how lucky you are, how lucky I am.

"You have a bad game and you're upset, think it's the end of the world and so many kids are fighting for their lives.

"The situation with Thea … it was one of the toughest things I've ever been through.  

"I'll try and keep helping (her family) as much as I can moving forward."

For his endeavours, Hamilton was named the 2017 J.R. McCaig Award winner, which goes to a player and an organizational staff member who best exemplify the enduring virtues of respect, courtesy and compassion.

"Dougie," praises outgoing Flames' community relations guru Blake Heynen, "is the best. So easy-going, so accessible, so compassionate.

"You ask him for some of his time, he's there.

"Just the consummate pro, wants to help out wherever he can. He's eager, just wants to go above and beyond to make somebody's day. Do you want a photo? Do you want a selfie? He just reaches out and he connects. And it resonates with people.

"With Thea, they built a lasting bond and had a record 31 days of Snapchat conversation. He went to her school,

"When she passed it was a hard day for all of us.

"Dougie just wants to help out wherever he can."

Helping out wherever he can.

Down the stretch here, and moving forward to next season and beyond, Dougie Hamilton's influence can only continue to expand.

"The thing about Dougie is that people always seem to forget how young he is," reminds Giordano. "He's been in the league a few years now but he's still only, what, 24?

"He's played a big role his whole career, a top-4guy, partnered with (Zdeno) Chara in Boston.

"He's really good now and we just expect him to keep getting better and better."

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