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Leafs' Hamilton perserveres, earns NHL opportunity

by Dan Rosen / NHL.com
NEWARK, N.J. -- Ryan Hamilton has been in the American Hockey League since 2006, and with the Toronto Marlies for the last three-and-a-half seasons. He's had to undergo heart ablation surgery and battle through a debilitating knee injury, but he's persevered and his hard work has finally paid off.

Hamilton, 26, will make his NHL debut Friday night at Prudential Center with the Toronto Maple Leafs. He and Nazem Kadri were called up on an emergency basis Thursday night to replace Clarke MacArthur (upper-body injury) and Matt Frattin (ankle injury) in the struggling Leafs' lineup.

"You never want to give up on your dream," Hamilton said after the morning skate Friday. "It was real exciting news when I got the call to join the guys here in New Jersey. It was definitely something that came out of the blue, but real exciting."

Hamilton started his professional career in the Wild organization. He was traded to Toronto in 2009 and has been viewed as a veteran leader on a developing Marlies' squad that is poised for a run in the Calder Cup Playoffs.

Hamilton has 46 points on 23 goals and 23 assists in 65 games this season for the Marlies, who are second in the AHL's Western Conference. When Leafs coach Randy Carlyle called Marlies coach Dallas Eakins and asked him who has earned the right to get the call up, Hamilton's name was the first one mentioned.

"I couldn't really stay healthy for the last couple of years," he said. "I had that little heart operation and with that knee injury last year it was frustrating, but I've been healthy all year and been part of a real good team down there. Now I'm real fortunate to get an opportunity up here.

"It's something special, something I've worked hard my whole life for. It's a real good opportunity, a real honor."

Kadri was the second name Eakins gave to Carlyle. Considered one of the Leafs' top prospects, Kadri has had an interesting season to say the least. He was a favorite to make the team out of training camp, but after playing in five preseason games he was assigned to the Marlies. Kadri earned a recall in October and played in three games before going back.

He was back with the Leafs in December and lasted through the month of January, but has been with the Marlies since the beginning of February. He has 32 points in 42 games with the Marlies but only six points in 19 games with the Leafs.

Kadri said he's looking at this latest opportunity as a chance to impress Carlyle, who was not the coach the last time he wore a Leafs' uniform.

"That's exactly what it is, really," he said. "It is a new coaching staff and a new system so you have to go out there, do what you can, and hopefully he likes what he sees."

Carlyle insisted that Kadri will not be pinned to the bench Friday night. While he wasn't locked into his lines yet, he did say he doesn't see a benefit in bringing up a skilled player (Kadri is a skilled player) and playing him on the fourth line.

MacArthur and Frattin were wingers for Mikhail Grabovski, so it's possible that at least Kadri gets to play in the Leafs' top-six against the Devils. Hamilton could have that opportunity as well.

"If you're a scorer and you're supposed to be a scorer, well then we have to find out if you can score in the NHL," Carlyle said.

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl
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