-- The wind chill on Long Island this week has temperatures dipping into the single digits, but New York Islanders
defenseman Travis Hamonic
is practically ready to hit Jones Beach.
"This is almost T-shirt weather," the Manitoba native joked Wednesday morning. "I almost wore a muscle shirt today. Talking to everyone back home, it's been really cold. It's been snowing for a while. It's actually nice to see some snow on the ground here. It feels a little familiar now."
Hamonic is a little familiar with the NHL these days, too. It's been almost a month since he made his debut against the Columbus Blue Jackets
on Thanksgiving Eve. Since then, his ice time and responsibilities have only increased. The 20-year-old is now averaging more than 20 minutes per game and is playing in all situations.
"From a personal standpoint, I'm feeling pretty good on the ice," Hamonic told NHL.com. "But there's always room for improvement and always room for me to get better and try to help out the guys in the room even more than I am."
While the Islanders have won only once in their last 21 games, Hamonic has shown the fan base glimpses of what's to come. In his debut, he nearly scored his first NHL goal in overtime, when he made a nifty move along the boards and cruised in alone on net before firing a backhander wide.
"I heard about it for the first couple of days after that game, but in the last two weeks I haven't heard much," Hamonic said with a smile as wide as Nassau County. "I came pretty close. That would have been a great way to end the losing streak for the guys and to put my first goal behind me. That would have been a neat feeling. I'm still looking for my first one here. But the important thing is that I am getting chances. Hopefully I don't have to wait too much longer."
He probably won't have to if interim coach Jack Capuano
continues to provide Hamonic with a large amount of ice time. Hamonic started the season with Capuano at AHL Bridgeport, where the 6-foot-2, 208-pounder had 7 points (2 goals, 5 assists) in 19 games. Judging by the way he's performed in New York, there's a decent chance Hamonic has seen the last of the Triple-A level.
"He's not comfortable at all … he doesn't want to leave," Capuano said. "He wants to be a National Hockey League player. I give him a lot of credit, because sometimes you see that in other players. But Travis is focused. He prepares. He takes a lot of pride in his game and he continues to get better.
"His attitude's been great. The one thing I love about Travis is he's young, (but) he's one of those guys at the end of the bench talking and being very vocal. For a young kid, he's got a lot of leadership qualities and a guy they'll probably count on in the future for sure."
It's those qualities and more that prompted the Islanders to use their third second-round pick (No. 53) at the 2008 Entry Draft on Hamonic, who racked up 106 points over three seasons in the Western Hockey League.
"Between Jack and (Isles GM) Garth (Snow) and (assistant coaches) Dean (Chynoweth) and Scott (Allen), they've really given me every opportunity," Hamonic said. "For the rest of my life, I'll always look back when I'm 50 and 60 knowing that the Islanders and this management and coaching staff gave me my opportunity. You always want to make the best of your opportunity, but you need one to make the best of it. They're really just putting the ball in my court here and kind of letting me run with it. I'm very thankful and appreciative of that. But at the same time, I think I've been playing pretty well with the ice time they've given me."
Hamonic has been one of the lone bright spots over the past month for the Islanders, an injury-plagued squad that has recorded one victory since Oct. 21. Despite the team's woes, though, Hamonic shows up at the rink each day with a positive outlook.
"Whether it's my little nephew getting ready to play squirts or in a beer league, guys always want to win," Hamonic said. "For me, I just want to come into every game as a new day and a new game and a new opportunity to go out there and do something special and really help the guys win. I'm not letting the past get in the way. For me and everyone else in here, we're just going to look ahead and take it day-by-day and practice-by-practice and game-by-game. We have a great group of guys in here and I wouldn't want to be in any other dressing room.
"We're all professional hockey players in here. Obviously, you go through tough times sometimes. But we have a great group of leadership in this room. There's a lot of older guys that I'm grateful and thankful to be learning from. Just seeing how they do things every day is pretty important to me."
"From a personal standpoint, I'm feeling pretty good on the ice. But there's always room for improvement and always room for me to get better and try to help out the guys in the room even more than I am." -- Travis Hamonic
Hamonic played 22:04 on Monday night, when the Islanders suffered a 5-0 loss at Nashville. They begin a three-game homestand Thursday against the Anaheim Ducks
, who boast the likes of talented forwards Corey Perry
, Ryan Getzlaf
and Bobby Ryan
. It will be a good test for Hamonic, who has passed every exam on Long Island thus far.
"I heard a saying back when I first got drafted … 'Go in with your eyes and ears open and your mouth shut,'" Hamonic said. "That's kind of what I've been trying to do. I'm just trying to learn every day."
Follow Brian Compton on Twitter: @BComptonNHL