Anthony Hamel is a young defenceman from a different era.
The 18-year-old blue-liner plays a physical game, which is not as prevalent as in the past, while adding many intangibles to the Charlottetown Islanders’ roster.
You won’t see many toe drags or end-to-end rushes from Hamel, but what he brings to the table is invaluable.
“I do what I need to do,” Hamel said Wednesday from the bus on the way to Quebec for this weekend’s three games. “I will never change my style.”
That style is what made him Charlottetown’s fourth-round pick in 2018.
The Islanders scouting staff saw him play a number of times during his draft year.
“He’d make an impact every game,” said Jim Hulton, the team’s general manager and head coach.
Sometimes it was by throwing a big hit while other times it was with team-first plays that help squads win games and championships.
The Islanders sent him back to midget in 2018-19 to work on his skating, edge work, patience with the puck and to be a leader for his Gatineau L’Intrépide squad.
“It was very evident early in training camp (in August) that those areas had improved a lot,” Hulton said.
Hamel said playing midget was a goal growing up. When he achieved that, junior was the next step.
“It’s like a dream,” he said. “It’s a big accomplishment.”
Hamel was part of the Islanders’ seven-man rotation on the back end early this season, but he got more consistent playing time as injuries struck in October and November. Now with everyone available, Hamel has been a healthy scratch at times but has approached it the right way.
“It’s not easy when you’re not in the lineup every night, but this kid is kind of the ultimate team guy,” Hulton said. “Smile on his face all the time, hard-working, energetic guy that is just fun to be around.”
Hamel will be in the lineup tonight in his hometown as the Isles play the Gatineau Olympiques.
Hamel said he’s been looking forward to the game all season as a chance to play in front of family and friends. He sees it more of a great experience as opposed to something to worry or get stressed out about.
“My focus is on what I need to do,” Hamel said. “But for sure, I think (about my family) all of the time.”
Hulton said playing your first junior game in your hometown can be an emotional contest.
“You go through a lot of different thoughts,” he said. “First and foremost, it’s probably your family and think about all of the sacrifices they’ve made to get you to that point.”
While hockey has become faster, Hulton said the physical component of the game remains an important element of the sport. Throwing a big hit comes naturally to the five-foot-nine, 198-pound defenceman known as Hammer to his teammates.
“He just loves to do it,” the bench boss said. “It’s a dying breed in the game, but he has a big smile on his face whenever he rocks somebody. And I think he’s going to endear himself to our crowd even more as he moves along (in his career).”
Hulton sees similarities between Hamel and Olivier Desjardins, who played a critical role as an overage defenceman in 2017-18.
“He’ll probably have more of an edge to him than Desj did, but I think he’s going to (play) that shutdown, penalty kill, unsung hero type of role,” he said.
Need to know
Who – A rookie defenceman with the Charlottetown Islanders.
Personal – Hamel is an 18-year-old Gatineau, Que., native.
Acquired – Hamel was a fourth-round pick (67th overall) of the Islanders at the 2018 draft.
GP G A Pts. PIM
36 0 2 2 53
Head coach Jim Hulton on Hamel’s future: “He’s going to be an emotional leader. You can already see it in the room. People gravitate towards him. He’s got a wonderful personality. He has zero hesitation to defend a teammate and do what’s best for the team.”
Famous uncle – Hamel is the nephew of Denis Potvin, who has the seventh most points (1,052) among blue-liners in NHL history. The Hockey Hall of Famer was the captain of the New York Islanders team that won four Stanley Cups in the early 1980s. Potvin will address the Islanders before tonight’s game.