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Hamilton Eager to Begin New Season

Defenseman focused on hockey, hopes to sign a new contract with the Canes

by Michael Smith @MSmithCanes / Hurricanes.com

In between most drills during a Carolina Hurricanes' practice, head coach Rod Brind'Amour will choose a player to take a breakaway shot on either goalie. If he scores, the goalies skate up and down the ice. If the goalie makes the save, the skaters sprint to the opposite side boards and back.

Dougie Hamilton was first up in Friday's training camp practice.

He gathered the puck at center ice, skated in on James Reimer and stickhandled before snapping off a quick shot that beat the Canes' netminder, forcing Reimer and Mrazek to skate up and down the ice.

Hamilton's goal was greeted by whoops and hollers and woos and stick tapping from his non-goalie teammates, who got a brief skating reprieve before the whistle blew to begin the next drill.

Tweet from @Canes: Doooogie was smooooth here pic.twitter.com/YqtsGoO3UH

Hamilton is coming off a season in which he scored 14 goals and totaled 40 assists, both tops among Canes defensemen. Had his 2019-20 campaign not prematurely ended in January due to injury and subsequent surgery, he would have made his first career NHL All-Star Game appearance and likely would have eclipsed his career high of 18 goals set the season prior.

Video: PHI@CAR: Hamilton goes five-hole for OT winner

As it turned out, the 2020 calendar year was pretty frustrating for Hamilton. Go figure.

Hamilton returned to the ice with the Canes in Phase 3 training camp in July, but an undisclosed injury then forced him out of the lineup until the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

"It's been hard for me, maybe mentally more than anything right now," Hamilton said after rejoining Canes practice in the Toronto bubble in early August. "Maybe the hardest part through the whole thing is watching the games and not being able to be with the guys. Win or loss, you want to be there. It's hard to be on the outside and feel like you're not a part of it."

Not that there was much hockey anyway, but Hamilton played in just 12 of the Canes' 36 games in 2020, tallying five points (2g, 3a) in that stretch.

Now, he's raring to get going again, even if the 56-game 2020-21 schedule is going to be a mad sprint to the finish.

"None of us have really played too much hockey in the last however many months. Once we get going, we're going to be playing a lot," he said this week. "Hopefully we can get off to a good start and get into a rhythm."

Video: "Hopefully we can get into a rhythm."

On Sunday, Feb. 7, Hamilton will make his return to Columbus, where he suffered a broken fibula in his left leg nearly a year ago. He and the Canes will face the Blue Jackets, Metropolitan Division opponents turned Central Division opponents, eight times in the upcoming season. What will that be like?

"Eight games against Columbus," Hamilton smiled.

Hamilton, who NHL Network ranked as the seventh-best defenseman in the league, figures to be poised for another big season. Even despite only playing in 47 games in 2019-20, he ranked fourth on the Canes in points (40) and eighth among all NHL defensemen in goals (14). He was tracking for career numbers across the board (and was already a career-best plus-30) and could have had a strong case for Norris Trophy consideration (he still finished seventh in voting).

A big season could lead to a big payday, too. The 27-year-old blueliner will be an unrestricted free agent this summer, though he's made clear his desire to remain in Raleigh.

"I'd like to stay here, but I'm going to let my agent and Don (Waddell) talk," Hamilton said. "I just want to focus on hockey."

His head coach agrees.

"He's a big part of our team" Brind'Amour said. "Hopefully they come to some sort of agreement because we love him around here."

A possible contract extension is likely to dominate headlines off the ice for Hamilton this season. That's just how the business works. Until that gets settled, Hamilton's focus remains on the ice, where his play could garner even more attention. It's been a familiar site through the first week of camp. He's skating alongside Jaccob Slavin on the Canes' top defensive pair. He's quarterbacking the first power-play unit. He's smiling and cracking jokes and hanging around the rink long after the final whistle of practice.

And, of course, he's scoring goals like the one he netted in Friday's practice.

"We're working hard in practice right now, and we've been skating for a while. We've had a lot of time to prepare, and now we're trying to get the game-like feel back," he said. "Hopefully we can come out with some energy."

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