December 9, 2010

Hamonic Focusing on Short Term, For Now

When the Islanders went through injury problems on defense the latest call up was one of their top young defensemen, Travis Hamonic. Originally placed near the lower end of the depth chart after the preseason, Hamonic continues to make a name for himself.

The Islanders recently got Andrew MacDonald and Jack Hillen back from their injuries. MacDonald, when in the line-up has been one of the Isles best defensemen this season.

Despite the returning blue liners, Hamonic did not get sent down to Bridgeport. Instead, he remained in the line-up, leaving Bruno Gervais and Dylan Reese as the scratches. This obviously sent a strong message to Hamonic about how he has played.

"It's something I'm thankful and grateful for. I feel, especially in the last two or three games, that I've come a long way and the coaching staff keeps rewarding me with ice time, which is nice."

Nice is one way for him to describe it. From watching where I'm sitting though, I find myself pleasantly surprised at how quickly the 20 year old has progressed since the Islanders took him late in the 2nd round of the 2008 NHL Entry Draft.

Hamonic grew up in the small town of St. Malo in Manitoba, where he and his three siblings had to deal with the loss of their father at an early age. The anniversary was 10 years ago this past September.

Hamonic was always thought of to be an excellent shut down defenseman, but didn't receive a lot of accolades early on. It wasn't until the defensive side of his game was more established and his offensive game came around when he got some more recognition.

After putting up a couple of solid seasons with the Moose Jaw Warriors of the WHL, Hamonic took off for his last two in the league, scoring 88 points in 98 games split between Moose Jaw and the Brandon Wheat Kings.

Hamonic put himself on the map after making Team Canada for the 2009-2010 World Junior Championships, where he was one of the top defensemen along with Isles prospect Calvin de Haan, and brought home a silver medal. Then, in the Memorial Cup this past spring, after battling a lengthy shoulder injury suffered during that WJC, Hamonic would be recognized as one of the top players in the tournament after notching four goals and 11 points in 11 games.

Now, after transitioning to the pro's for just 19 games with the AHL Sound Tigers, Hamonic finds himself getting 20 minutes a night with the big club.

"I have had the opportunity to play with some pretty good defenseman here like MacDonald the last couple of games, James Wisniewski my first two and Mark Eaton also."

There are a number of things that have factored in to this fast transition. However, Hamonic attributes the bulk of it to the veterans on the back end. "All the d-men here really know how to make me feel at home, and comfortable. They have really helped me out."

For those who have watched the games he's played in, it's very note worthy that he is already getting significant minutes on the power-play and penalty kill. As one of the new comers to a power-play unit that has not scored in their last 38 chances, I wondered if Hamonic saw something that was wrong and attributing to the struggles. He hasn't.

"I don't think we're struggling," he explained to me. "Maybe we're not putting the puck on net as much but we're definitely getting our chances. Breaks will come. We just need to continue working hard."

I'll agree to disagree with Hamonic there, but I will say that I really like the optimism from him. He's no stranger to getting captains letters stitched to his sweater, and if he continues to develop this way he will have one for the Islanders in the future.

Although he is thrilled for this current opportunity, Hamonic is taking a very realistic approach to it all.

"I'm happy about it but I just have to make sure I keep working day in and day out."

He adds, "I can't look too far ahead in this situation."

That is a key lesson that many of the players on the team can live by, especially at a time like now. Having lost 17 of their last 18 games, it doesn't get any easier.

The Islanders take on the Bruins tonight in Boston. The good news is that Tuukka Rask is getting the nod over come-back player of the year candidate Tim Thomas, who has been absolutely amazing in net.

Marc Savard has returned for the Bruins, now healthy. Nathan Horton looks like a different player than he one we saw in Florida. Milan Lucic has put together a string of nice games over the past couple of weeks.

Hamonic, starting goalie Rick DiPietro and the rest of the Isles will have their hands full tonight.

No comments: