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Senators snare top major junior free agent target

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
Medicine Hat Tigers captain Wacey Hamilton has signed a three-year entry level contract with the Senators. He chose Ottawa over about 10 other NHL suitors (Photo by Eugene Erick/Double E Photography).

The Ottawa Senators believe they've landed themselves a diamond in the rough.

And with a little more polish, Wacey Hamilton figures he'll justify their faith in him.

Hamilton, the 20-year-old captain of the Western Hockey League's Medicine Hat Tigers, signed a three-year entry level contract with the Senators today. The 6-0, 177-pound centre is in the middle of his finest season with the Tigers, recording career highs in assists (52), points (72) and penalty minutes (113) to go along with 20 goals.

Medicine Hat's coach is Shaun Clouston, the brother of Senators bench boss Cory Clouston.

"We're very pleased to get this kid signed," said Senators assistant general manager Tim Murray. "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.

"A little bit of a late bloomer, but he's a guy our scouting staff identified as the No. 1 major junior free agent, so that's the guy we went after. His agent and I were able to hammer it out very quickly and he chose us over probably 10 or so other teams, so we're very pleased with that."

Hamilton took notice of the Senators' commitment to youth in the future and is enthused about being a part of it.

"There were other teams that offered sort of the same thing, but we felt Ottawa was a really good fit," he said. "They are kind of rebuilding now, so maybe there's a bit more opportunity to get called up and make an impact at a younger age. In the end, my family and agent and I all felt it was the best fit."

The Tigers have clinched a WHL playoff berth, currently hold the third seed in the Eastern Conference and have Memorial Cup aspirations. However, should Medicine Hat falter early in the post-season — the league's regular schedule ends March 20 — the Senators could possibly target Hamilton for some duty with their American Hockey League affiliate in Binghamton, N.Y.

"This has been a long time in coming. My first couple of seasons were pretty tough, but I kept pushing and working toward signing a contract and today is bittersweet as far as proving a lot of people wrong. Hopefully, my story can sort of inspire some other kids who go under the radar for a long time and remind them to keep pushing toward their goals." - Wacey Hamilton
"We know if we get into the playoffs and take a run in the playoffs down (in Binghamton), we’re going to have some injuries and I think he’s the type of player a coach would have no problem putting into the lineup because he’s responsible, he knows how to play the game and he’s competitive," said Murray. "So he’s kind of a coach’s dream. I think Kurt (Kleinendorst, the B-Sens head coach) would love him down there if the need arose.

"Selfishly, we’d like to get him in Binghamton as quick as possible but I think for (his) good as an overager — it’s his last year there — we would love to see him take his team to the championship. They’re a good team and I think it would be great for his development to lead his team and have a shot at winning the Western league."

Hamilton, a native of Cochrane, Alta., was passed over during his National Hockey League draft year, but has put up back-to-back 70 point seasons for the Tigers. Now he's eager to move forward.

"This has been a long time in coming," said Hamilton. "My first couple of seasons were pretty tough, but I kept pushing and working toward signing a contract and today is bittersweet as far as proving a lot of people wrong. Hopefully, my story can sort of inspire some other kids who go under the radar for a long time and remind them to keep pushing toward their goals."

The Senators have high hopes for Hamilton as a future contributor.

"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, and that's what we're hoping (to get) from him."


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