ALBANY — His role reduced to mostly a power-play specialist on the nights he did dress, Jeff Hamilton welcomes the opportunity to be a full-time contributor again.
Likewise, the Albany River Rats are thrilled to have a sniper of Hamilton’s ability and experience at their disposal for the stretch run, and beyond.
“It’s great having him here,” Albany acting captain Jamie Johnson said. “I don’t know long he’ll be here for, but anytime you can add a player like that at this time of year, it’s great for our team.”
The Carolina Hurricanes assigned Hamilton, 30, to the Rats on Tuesday, 26 days after he cleared NHL waivers. He had six goals and 19 points playing in 52 of the Canes’ 66 games.
Hamilton picked up an assist in his Albany debut, a 6-2 win over Binghamton on Wednesday, his first AHL game since March 24, 2006. He has 112 goals and 208 points in 234 career AHL games for Bridgeport and Hartford.
“I’m excited. I’m tired of just practicing,” Hamilton said. “I want to play some games here. I was getting scratched up there, so it’s a nice opportunity for me to come down here, and get a lot of minutes and improve my game. I’m just like anybody else here, trying to get back to the NHL. That was my mindset coming here.”
Albany (32-24-1-3) goes after its season-high fifth straight win tonight at Springfield. The Rats host Worcester on Saturday and Philadelphia Sunday afternoon at the Times Union Center.
Head coach-GM Tom Rowe immediately put Hamilton on Albany’s top forward line with Johnson and left wing Joe Jensen, and the trio showed some instant chemistry against Binghamton.
“He was unbelievable,” Rowe said. “He’s been up in the NHL quite a while, and I think he realizes he’s here to get his game in shape and get some confidence back. He certainly played like he had a lot of confidence.
“He fit right in. We’re looking for him to keep the young kids calm. That’s what he can really do, take control of the play when he’s on the ice. Obviously, he’s going to finish, and he’s going to set guys up. They just need to be ready and alert when he gets the puck.”
Hamilton was a first-team AHL all-star in 2003-04 after capturing the inaugural Willie Marshall Award as the league’s leading goal-scorer, netting 43 in 67 games for Bridgeport. In his last AHL stint, he had 24 goals and 49 points in 39 games for the 2005-06 Sound Tigers.
“Jeff Hamilton has one of the best shots in hockey, and he’s a great team guy,” said Rats winger Trevor Gillies, Hamilton’s Hartford teammate in 2004-05. “He’s a real character in the room. He’s going to be a good guy in this locker room. I’m just happy to be playing with him again, and glad he’s here. He’ll help us out a lot.”
After playing 70 games for the Chicago Blackhawks in 2006-07, Hamilton signed a one-way contract last summer that pays him $800,000 this season and next. He would have to clear re-entry waivers to return to Carolina, which would then be responsible for half his salary if he were to be claimed by another NHL team.
Because that $400,000 would count against the Canes’ salary cap, it is likely that Hamilton will remain with Albany for the remainder of this season.
“I’m planning on being here for a while,” Hamilton said. “I’m
going to work hard so it’s hard for them to keep me down here, and try and help these guys win in the process.”
IN AND OUT
Defenseman Mark Flood could miss anywhere from two to six weeks, pending the results of an MRI exam Thursday. Flood appeared to injure his right arm/shoulder after being driven into the corner boards by Binghamton’s Jeremy Yablonski in the second
period Wednesday, a hit Rowe called “clean.”
“It’s unfortunate for us, and we’re going to miss him,” Rowe said.
Albany also signed 6-6,
235-pound center Kiel McLeod, who joined the team Thursday. A second-round draft pick by
Columbus in 2001, McLeod, 25, had 35 points, 117 PIM and was minus-24 in 48 games for Victoria (ECHL). He is 22-26-48 and 247 in 212 AHL games for Springfield, Utah, San Antonio and Philadelphia. . . .
With Keith Aucoin in Carolina for the duration, several of Albany’s veterans will share the captaincy, serving a week at a time, starting with Johnson. Also in the rotation are Gillies, Hamilton, Flood, Pat Dwyer, Joey Mormina and injured leading scorer Brandon Nolan. Goalie Mike Leighton is also part of the leadership group, but prevented from wearing a letter by league by-laws. . . .
Thursday was Clear Day in the AHL, when all teams must submit their rosters for the regular-season and playoffs, with exceptions for injury, illness and callups. The league doesn’t release the rosters until after 10 this morning, but here is one possible lineup:
Goalies: Leighton, Justin Peters. Defense: Flood, Mormina, Noah Babin, Brett Carson, Bryan Rodney, Casey Borer, Steve Ward, Tim Conboy. Forwards: Nolan, Dwyer, Johnson, Hamilton, Gillies, Jensen, McLeod, Mike Angelidis, Jakub Petruzalek, Jerome Samson, Nicolas Blanchard, Bobby Hughes. Players such as Cohoes native Marc Cavosie, Chris Blight, Joel Rechlicz and Murray could be listed as “in residence,” or eligible to play under emergency conditions. Signed junior or college players do not have to be included.