With a little more than two months until hundreds of eligible prospects will converge on St. Paul, Minnesota, Niagara IceDogs defenceman Dougie Hamilton is taking the pressure and anticipation in stride.
Although his NHL dream continues to inch closer with each passing day, the extreme OHL post-season energy has the 17-year-old rearguard understandably engrossed in the task at hand.
"We’ve had an amazing season in Niagara," Hamilton said. "We want to continue that success. Regular season is important, but we need to keep the pedal down so we can achieve the team’s goal."
"I feel that I’ve grown so much this season. Last year was hard as a rookie, but it has been a productive year and I’m having fun."
The challenges presented as a rookie were numerous, but Hamilton’s play was the only required response. In 64 games with Niagara, he produced three goals and 16 points, earning the IceDogs’ Rookie of the Year prize, along with the OHL’s Second-Team All-Rookie distinction.
His game blossomed during the 2010-11 season, where he was able to accumulate 12 goals and 58 points in 67 games; an IceDogs franchise record for most points by a defenceman in a single season. As Hamilton explains, his sophomore success was determined by new opportunity.
"I just wanted to play my game and do the best I could," he said. "You can't really put a number on [the points], especially as a defenceman. It just depends on the opportunity and how your power-play is doing as well."
The mild-mannered blueliner was eager to applaud Niagara’s coaching as well, which has ultimately helped shape his young career as a prospective NHL selection.
"It's been really good with Mike Van Ryn this year," Hamilton said. "He's helped our whole defence with those little things he gives us. That's been really helpful."
"I can always improve my game. The coaches here want to help and I want to get better each day. We have a good relationship and I really value the feedback I get. … I’d say I’m a complete defenceman. I think I'm physical in my own end and I make good passes. In the offensive zone, I think I'm a sneaky offensive player -- I can find those seams and try to score goals."
Hamilton’s all-encompassing game is appropriate, given his NHL role models that have carved a unique style in today’s fast-paced professional game.
"Jay Bouwmeester or Brent Burns," he said, referencing his favourite NHL players. "Both big, mobile, complete defencemen; two guys I try to model my game after."
Role models come in many forms, and Hamilton has had tremendous support from family to guide him along his promising athletic path.
His mother, Lynn, partook in the 1984 Summer Olympic Games as a member of the Canadian Basketball Team. His father, Doug, participated in the same Olympics, winning a Bronze Medal in rowing.
Bloodlines, in addition to the excellent Niagara program helped establish on-ice success. His brother and current IceDogs teammate, Freddie, was selected 129th overall by the San Jose Sharks in 2010.
"I guess you could say we’re blessed with good genes," said a smiling Hamilton.
"My entire family has been such an excellent support group. My mom and dad have taught me everything about achieving my dreams. Without them, I wouldn’t be where I am today. They’ve been the best role models."
His drive to succeed has helped him plant such a remarkable campaign in Niagara. In doing so, Hamilton has vaulted up the NHL Central Scouting rankings as the top defenceman and fourth ranked skater, overall, among North American players.
Teammate Ryan Strome is ranked eighth overall, which has helped create a friendly rivalry in the IceDogs locker room as new editions have been released.
"We like to have some fun with it," Hamilton said. "We talk to each other on our phones when they're coming out. There have been a couple where I’ve been ahead, and some where he’s been ahead. It’s not really a competition, though. I'm a defenceman and he's a forward, so we have fun with the bragging rights."
With teammates and family helping guide his career, Dougie Hamilton is ready to achieve the dream that has naturally been instilled in his competitive makeup.
"It’s really exciting. It's my dream to play in the NHL and I'm willing to do anything to do that."
Author: Ryan Dittrick | edmontonoilers.com