|Wacey Hamilton (left) and Jakob Silfverberg watch the action during some scrimmaging at Senators development camp at the Bell Sensplex. Hamilton, signed with Ottawa as a free agent in March (Ottawa Senators Hockey Club).
Hopes and dreams abound in the hearts of everyone on hand for the annual Ottawa Senators development camp.
Perhaps nobody, however, is more grateful for the opportunity this week presents than Wacey Hamilton
, a Prairie boy who had plenty of reason to wonder whether the National Hockey League had slammed the door on him for good. The 20-year-old native of Cochrane, Alta., saw three NHL entry drafts come and go without hearing his name called, a discouraging development for any young hockey player.
But in early March, the Senators tossed the Medicine Hat Tigers captain a much-welcomed life line and signed him to a three-year entry level contract. Hamilton called it "the happiest day of my life" and admitted to a sense of relief that also accompanied the deal.
"It's frustrating, for sure," Hamilton said about the waiting game he played before the Senators came calling. "When I was 17, I was rated to go (in the draft), but everyone says not to pay too much attention to those ratings. As much as you try not to, it's hard, but at the end of the day, they're right. (The ratings) don't really mean anything.
"Getting passed over three times was tough but at the same time, I felt it motivated me even more for my 20-year-old year to come back and really show people what I could do. It was sort of my last chance."
Hamilton made it count, producing career bests in assists (53) and points (73) in leading the Tigers to the Eastern Conference final in the Western Hockey League. He also racked up 113 penalty minutes, showing that, at 5-10 and 177 pounds, he's more than capable of playing a hard-nosed style.
"He's a top two-way player, he's very responsible (defensively), he's gritty, he's tough, he's willing to drop the gloves if he has to, but he's just a good hockey player," said Senators assistant general manager Tim Murray. "He's a little bit of a late bloomer."
That being said, Hamilton knows he'll always have to answer questions about his size. It's what he heard over and over every time NHL teams chose to pass him up in the draft.
"They didn't know if I'd be able to handle the bigger bodies and stuff," Hamilton said following an on-ice session earlier today at the Bell Sensplex. "I've been a smaller guy my whole career and managed to do pretty well. So I think it's just another challenge in front of me and something I'm going to have to overcome."
The Senators, however, see Hamilton as being a potential valuable contributor over time.
"We know he's a hard worker so whatever we put in front of him, we know he's going to accept," said Murray. "Down the road here, ideally he could be a third-line centre who helps us win. He wins faceoffs, plays special teams and is just a real hard guy to play against. That's what we're hoping (to get) from him."
Added Hamilton: "They just want me to take it day-by-day and develop into a solid two-way player. If you want to make comparisons, a guy like (former Senator) Chris Kelly or something along those lines. A third-liner who can chip in offensively, kill penalties and just be really responsible in the D-zone and stuff like that."
And if the next step takes Hamailton to the American Hockey League and the Binghamton Senators this fall, then so be it. Given what he's been through to get to this point, it's clear this is a guy who willing to take whatever route is necessary to chase his NHL dream.
"I definitely need some seasoning," he said of joining a team that will go into 2011-12 as the defending Calder Cup champion. "I need to find my game in the pros and I wouldn't be surprised if I start in the 'A' to learn the pro side of things ... You saw what (the B-Sens) did in the playoffs and it shows they have good depth. It shows they have good coaching and it's just exciting to be a part of that.
"But hopefully sooner rather than later, I'll get the call (to the NHL)."