Hamblin on his way to being an NHL regular
In the short term at least, James Hamblin has been able to provide the Oilers with something that even last season’s team didn’t have – a regular fourth-line centre.
Called up for the second time in his career at the beginning of November, Hamblin has been the team’s fourth-line centre ever since. He’s proven that at least for now he can handle the tougher NHL competition (as opposed to the AHL), even if it is only on the fourth line. His boxcars are not that impressive, 2-0-2 in 10 games, but what’s really important is he’s tied for the second-best +/- on the team with a +1.
On a team struggling as badly defensively as the Oilers have been for most of the season save for the game against the Caps, Hamblin has been a breath of fresh air to the bottom six. The goal he scored against Tampa Bay came with a nice story, as he pointed upward to the sky as his mother passed away from cancer back in September 2017, so that was a tribute to her.
The Oilers need all the help they can get right now in this department, even if it’s only on the fourth line.
Of course, the line between an NHL bottom-six forward and the AHL is a lot thinner than the line between an NHL top-six forward and the AHL, so Hamblin may not have established himself permanently yet and can’t breathe too easy at the time of writing. But if he keeps going like he is, he’ll have done what last year’s team could never do – stabilize the Oilers’ centre depth.
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If Hamblin does end up staying for good, it’ll be Connor McDavid on the first line, Leon Draisaitl on the second, Ryan Mcleod anchoring the third and Hamblin anchoring the fourth. It’s been a long time since the Oilers had the same four guys at all four centre spots for long stretches.
Hamblin’s timing couldn’t be better either, since his contract is up after this season, as he’s an RFA. If he can keep playing well and show the ability to chip in some secondary offence on the fourth line, then he’s likely looking at a modest raise and an upgrade from a two-way contract to a bona fide one-way contract.
If he keeps playing like he is, then when Holloway is healthy enough to come back, it’ll be Erne or Sam Gagner going down to Bakersfield, not Hamblin.
Did I mention he’s also a local Edmonton boy? Also not even drafted, signed as a free agent and look where he is today? What a great story.
And finally …
Remember when I asked if Evander Kane was permanently fading or just temporarily? As one of the players playing injured at the beginning of the season, it looks like we have our answer now as he is 10-9-19 in 20 games. He could stand to be better defensively, but then outside of the Heritage Classic and the Washington game, so could pretty much everyone else on the roster.